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    Judge throws out sexual assault charges against Newport Beach surgeon and girlfriend
    • July 7, 2023

    A Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend who drew international headlines after local prosecutors accused them of drugging and raping seven women will not face trial on any sexual assault-related charges, a judge ruled on Friday, July 7, effectively gutting a case that had already been drastically pared back to focus on only two alleged victims amid years of political controversy.

    While lesser drug possession, gun and poisoning-related charges remain, Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Leversen on Friday morning ruled there isn’t enough evidence to support the allegations of drugging and assault with intent to commit a sexual offense that comprised the heart of the criminal case against Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley and led to years of courtroom debate over whether the pair are “swingers” or predators.

    Prosecutors argued that testimony showed two women — referred to in court proceedings by the pseudonyms Jane Doe 1 and 2 — met Robicheaux and Riley on separate occasions at Newport Beach nightspots, were quickly befriended by the couple who bought them drinks — and gave one of them cocaine — to get them intoxicated before they woke up later at Robicheaux’s Balboa Peninsula home in a state of undress.

    “What are the chances that two women, strangers to one another, will describe similar nights years apart?” Deputy Attorney General Namita Patel asked the judge. “And what is their motive to make it up?”

    Attorneys representing Robicheaux and Riley argued that contradictions in the various interviews that Jane Doe 1 gave to investigators over the years made her unreliable, and said there is no proof in the recollections by Jane Doe 2 that either of the defendants had actually attempted to sexually assault her against her will.

    “The evidence introduced at the preliminary hearing reflects that Robicheaux and Riley were in a ‘swinging’ relationship, used and shared drugs and alcohol, and sometimes invited other women to join them in sex. None of that makes them rapists,” the defense attorneys wrote in a recent brief to the judge. “The government’s case rests on the unfounded assumption that anyone who engages in casual sex while drinking and using drugs also intends to rape anyone who elects to party with them but ultimately opts not to join them in a sexual encounter.”

    Attorneys for the couple sharply criticized prosecutors for not dismissing the case earlier, arguing that Robicheaux and Riley’s reputations have been irreparably damaged, and may never recover.

    “It has been devastating to see what has happened to him, to his future,” Attorney Philip Cohen said of Robicheaux.

    Riley sobbed as the judge announced his ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed on the sexual assault-related charges. Both Riley and Robicheaux — who have attended every court hearing together — embraced and congratulated their attorneys following the ruling.

    Since the ruling came at the end of a preliminary hearing there was a lower burden of proof, with the judge only required to find probable cause that the defendants should face the charges rather than the higher criminal jury trial standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Unlike a jury trial, investigators were able to testify on behalf of the alleged victims, rather than the woman having to take the stand.

    Jane Doe 1 told investigators that she was out drinking and dancing with a roommate at Baja Sharkeez when Riley met and befriended the pair, introducing them to Robicheaux. After taking a few sips of a drink Robicheaux bought her, Jane Doe 1 told investigators that she “blanked out,” waking up later in a state of undress next to her topless roommate in Robicheaux’s dark bedroom.

    Unable to wake up her roommate, Jane Doe 1 told investigators, she found Robicheaux in a bathroom and asked him what was going on, at which point she claimed Robicheaux grabbed her arms and told her, “You wanted this, you wanted to come back here.” A struggle between Jane Doe 1 and Robicheaux ensued, the woman told investigators, in which he struck her until she screamed and Riley walked up and told Robicheaux, “It is going too far, it is not worth it.”

    Hearing the screams, neighbors called 911. Officers in reports and later interviews said Jane Doe 1 told them that night that she hadn’t been sexually assaulted. But, in an interview with prosecutors shortly before the recent preliminary hearing, Jane Doe 1 reportedly said she had told the officers that she had been sexually assaulted but they didn’t believe her and had laughed at her.

    Jane Doe 2 met Robicheaux on a dating app while visiting Orange County on Easter weekend in 2017, and the two met up at Nobu Newport Beach. Jane Doe 2 said she was surprised that Riley was also there, since she thought it was a date, but indicated she warmed up to Riley and had drinks with the couple and agreed to take cocaine Riley allegedly offered her.

    The rest of the night was hazy, Jane Doe 2 told investigators, but she remembered the couple touching her and Robicheaux taking off her shirt, Robicheaux handing her a drink he had put some sort of substance into and locking herself into a bathroom until she could call an Uber and leave. Jane Doe 2 recalled Riley at one point telling her “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” and Riley later telling her “He makes me do this” referring to Robicheaux.

    A police search of Robicheaux’s home allegedly turned up cocaine, the drug Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, and MDMA, or Ectasy, as well as two unregistered weapons, a Bushmaster rifle and a Century Arms RAS47 rifle.

    During testimony in the preliminary hearing, the defense attorneys repeatedly asked why investigators didn’t question apparent inconsistencies, particularly in Jane Doe 1’s multiple interviews. They also noted that Jane Doe 1’s roommate — with whom she apparently had a falling out — told investigators that “(Jane Doe 1) tends to think everyone is trying to do sexual things to her.”

    The case was first announced in a high-profile news conference in 2018, when then-District Attorney Tony Rackauckas described the couple as meeting a series of women in bars and restaurants, drugging them and luring them back to Robicheaux’s home to sexually assault them. An orthopedic surgeon, Robicheaux had appeared on a Bravo television show, “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male.”

    After unseating Rackauckas, current District Attorney Todd Spitzer accused his predecessor of mishandling the case, apologized to the couple and moved to have the charges dismissed. Attorneys representing the women fought back, and a judge refused to sign off on what he described as a “back-room dismissal” in a case that had been “infected” by politics.

    The judge opted instead to take the rare step of removing the DA’s office from the case and turning it over to the state Attorney General’s office. At that point, there were still seven alleged victims.

    A judge later agreed to dismiss charges related to two of the women, who decided they no longer wanted to be involved after deciding they had been “grossly mistreated” and “dragged through the mud.”

    Then, a third judge agreed to a request by the Attorney General’s Office to dismiss charges related to three other women, leaving two remaining alleged victims. State prosecutors told the judge they had walked into a “political firestorm” when they took on the case, and while they weren’t saying they didn’t believe the alleged victims, they believed they couldn’t prove the criminal allegations they had decided to dismiss.

    Both prosecutors and defense attorneys — along with attorneys representing the remaining alleged victims — declined to comment after Friday’s ruling.

    Robicheaux and Riley once faced decades in prison had they been convicted of the charges announced by the former DA in 2018. It wasn’t immediately clear what they face if they are convicted of the current, drastically pared-back charges. The arraignment on those charges is July 19.

    No trial date has been set.

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    ​ Orange County Register