- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2020

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) - A California judge on Friday refused to dismiss rape and kidnapping charges against a doctor who appeared on a reality TV show and his girlfriend, dealing a blow to prosecutors who wanted to drop the case.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones said he was ruling after reviewing documents from prosecutors, defense lawyers and attorneys for women who said orthopedic surgeon Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend Cerissa Riley had drugged and sexually assaulted them.

During a brief video hearing, Jones said he was not sure who could prosecute the case since Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer had publicly apologized to the defendants. Jones set a hearing for June 12 to discuss how to proceed and noted in a written ruling that the case had been mired in politics during Spitzer’s campaign for his seat, which has created a “minefield of legal hazards.”

“It is hard for this Court to understand how Mr. Spitzer and his deputies can reject the allegations of seven women they have never met or interviewed,” Jones wrote. “A backroom dismissal by prosecutors without the alleged victims ever having the opportunity to be heard is contrary to the core values of our legal process, and the interests of the public.”

It is unusual for a judge to refuse to dismiss a case when a district attorney asks to drop the charges and courts often agree to do so in cases involving plea agreements.

Spitzer said in a statement that his office was reviewing the ruling but can’t prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, and as a result “cannot legally, ethically, and morally proceed with the prosecution of this case.”

Attorneys for the victims welcomed the judge’s decision. Mike Fell, who represents one of the victims, said his client cried when she heard the news.

“These women have endured shocking abuses of their rights as they have participated in this process,” said Matt Murphy, who represents four of the victims. “Today the court set that right.”

Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately comment.

The high-profile case has long been mired in local politics. When running for office, Spitzer accused his predecessor Tony Rackauckas of using the charges against the doctor - who previously appeared on a Bravo TV show called “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male - to drum up campaign publicity.

After he won election, Spitzer asked the state Attorney General’s office to take over the prosecution, citing fear of a conflict of interest due to his public criticism of how the case was handled. But he was told to proceed.

Spitzer said he then conducted a thorough review of the case and found insufficient evidence against the pair, including inconsistent accounts and a lack of video evidence, and asked Jones to dismiss the charges.

Attorneys for five of the seven alleged victims blasted the move and said the women didn’t know each other and recounted similar experiences of being drugged and incapacitated before they were assaulted.

Robicheaux and Riley were charged in 2018. At the time, authorities said the pair plied their victims with drugs and sexually assaulted them when they were incapable of resisting. Robicheaux and Riley have pleaded not guilty.

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