Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer sought to dismiss rape charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend last year based on a flawed review of evidence in the case, according to a group of senior D.A. investigators.
The investigators’ findings were outlined in a memo sent in July from Cmdr. Clint McCall to Chief Paul M. Walters, who leads the DA’s investigative bureau. The Times reviewed a redacted copy of the memo, which was filed in court Thursday.
The top-to-bottom review of the case against Grant Robicheaux, 40, and Cerissa Riley, 33, ordered by Spitzer was “incomplete and contained inaccurate and misleading information,” according to the memo. Those shortcomings led prosecutors for Spitzer to make arguments in court for why the charges against the couple should be tossed out that “contained numerous unsupported allegations, misstatements, untruths, and factually wrong conclusions,” McCall wrote in the memo.
The memo and the internal divisions it highlights mark another twist in a case that’s been embroiled in controversy for the past two years.
Robicheaux and Riley, a former schoolteacher, were initially charged in 2018 by Spitzer’s predecessor, Tony Rackauckas. At the time, prosecutors painted the couple as sexual predators who used their good looks to prey on vulnerable women, drug them and take them back to their posh Newport Beach home to assault them.
Robicheaux was charged with sexually assaulting seven women, while Riley was charged with five. The couple has pleaded not guilty and has denied any nonconsensual sex. Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who is representing Robicheaux, declined to comment on the memo.
In 2019, shortly after Spitzer took over as the county’s top prosecutor, he assigned two deputy district attorneys to conduct a review of all the evidence collected in the case. The unusual move came after a prosecutor pointed out “serious proof problems” with the case, Spitzer said at the time.
Over three months, the prosecutors looked at thousands of photographs and videos that had been taken from the couple’s computers, hundreds of hours of audio recordings, thousands of pages of documents and tens of thousands of text messages between Robicheaux and Riley spanning a four-year period.
Ultimately, they determined there was insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Spitzer accused his predecessor of overreaching on the case to bolster his reelection campaign and moved to have the charges dropped. The request, however, was denied by County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones. Instead, Jones removed the DA’s office from the case and ordered it be turned over to the California attorney general’s office.
During a pretrial hearing Thursday, Deputy Atty. Gen. Yvette Martinez said her office is still reviewing documents to ensure they’ve received all evidence in the case.
“We are conducting a very thorough and independent review of the case,” Martinez said.
Spitzer’s review of the case came under scrutiny during a personnel investigation into a D.A. investigator, Jennifer Kearns.
In court filings prosecutors have alleged Kearns omitted pertinent information from reports she wrote about the case and claimed she led a “whisper campaign” to exaggerate evidence in favor of prosecution.
The agency launched a probe into Kearns’ actions and, as part of that inquiry, investigators concluded the review Spitzer order had been lacking. Officials also determined that Kearns should receive additional training on report writing.
Matt Murphy, an attorney representing four women who have accused Robicheaux and Riley of assaulting them and a former prosecutor in the DA’s office, said Thursday that no one from the attorney general’s office has reached out to the women.
“We’re trying to be cooperative, but I’ve got to tell you nobody from the AG’s office has talked to my clients,” he said during the hearing. “It’s completely unfair to the victims in this case.”
Murphy and others also criticized the decision by district attorney officials to bar Kearns from speaking to anyone from the AG’s office about the case without a supervisor present.
Adam E. Chaikin, an attorney for the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, wrote in an email to Walters in October that the directive likely intimidates Kearns from sharing necessary details about the case with prosecutors without fear of reprimand.
Orange County Dist. Atty. spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said in a statement Thursday that the office has been cooperative with the state attorney general and has turned over all discovery in their possession.
“Dist. Atty. Spitzer has ensured the attorney general has unrestricted access to all district attorney personnel to aid in its review of the case and to answer any questions or provide clarification,” she said. “The attorney general, not this office, determines who state prosecutors talk to and when.”