California surgeon once accused of drugging, sexually assaulting women seeks damages from Orange County

California surgeon once accused of drugging, sexually assaulting women seeks damages from Orange County

A Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend, once accused in a headline-grabbing case of drugging and sexually assaulting seven women, are seeking unspecified damages from the county of Orange.

While the sex charges were dropped or dismissed against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, the legal costs and the flood of bad publicity damaged them financially and torpedoed Robicheaux’s medical career, according to separate but similar liability claims filed by the two on Dec. 19.

Robicheaux lost his Balboa Peninsula home and voluntarily allowed his medical license to be suspended. He now lives in an RV with Riley.

The claims, considered precursors to lawsuits, alleged the publicity-generating criminal charges were filed to “improperly influence” then-Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ failed reelection bid in 2018.

False and misleading statements, including that the doctor and his girlfriend assaulted as many as 1,000 women they met at Newport Beach night spots, were lodged by the prosecution team, said Robicheaux’s claim, submitted by attorney Thomas M. Ferlauto.

“None of that was true,” the claim said. “However, the local, national and international media picked up the story, leading to a media feeding frenzy in which claimant was characterized as a voracious rapist.”

Prosecutors labeled the two as predators, while defense attorneys said they were guilty of nothing more than swinging.

Among those specifically named in the claim were Rackauckas and his spokesperson, Susan Kang, both of whom could not be reached for comment.

When the case first surfaced, the prosecution team held news conferences and said there were videos and DNA evidence indicating Robicheaux and Riley were sexual predators who picked up women, drugged them and then assaulted them at Robicheaux’s home.

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At the time, Robicheaux  was an orthopedic hand surgeon who appeared on the Bravo television show “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male.”

When current District Attorney Todd Spitzer took office in 2019, he initiated an internal investigation into the charges, which found that a district attorney investigator left out of her report key details that might have helped the defense and persuaded women to identify as victims when they did not initially believe they were harmed, according to the claim.

Spitzer was dubious of the case from the beginning and accused Rackauckas during the campaigning of using it to reach voters.

In a deposition under oath, Rackauckas later acknowledged he expected the case to generate a lot of publicity that could help his campaign, the claim said.  After unseating Rackauckas, Spitzer attempted to drop the charges and apologized to Robicheaux and Riley.

Spitzer’s actions drew a backlash from the accusers and their attorneys, who noted that the alleged victims lived across the country and had never spoken to each other, yet leveled similar allegations of sexual assault against the couple.

Judge Greg Jones ended up removing the DA’s office from the case, arguing that it had been “infected” by politics. Jones handed the prosecution over to the the state Attorney General’s Office.

However, some of the alleged victims ended up dropping out of the case, telling state prosecutors that they had been “dragged through the mud.” Meanwhile, the state determined there was not enough evidence to proceed with some of the other victims. Prosecutors whittled the number of victims down to two.

But a judge threw out the remaining sex and drugging charges, finding there wasn’t enough evidence to support them. Riley was entirely off the hook. Robicheaux still faced two low-level counts of illegally possessing an assault rifle and psychedelic mushrooms. He pleaded guilty in November to both charges and received no jail time.

While the criminal case is over, the reverberations are just beginning as Robicheaux and Riley seek payback.

“Judge Jones and Tony Rauckackas made this political when it was only ever about the lack of evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spitzer said. “And now I unequivocally believe the taxpayers of Orange County are going to suffer financially from this lawsuit.”

He said the case would “inevitably cost Orange County millions of dollars.”

Perhaps the most damaging allegation against Robicheaux and Riley involved the potential “1,000 victims” claim. But that story may have been a miscue between Rackauckas and reporters.

During a September 2018 news conference, Rackauckas alleged that investigators had discovered hundreds of videos belonging to the couple that showed intoxicated women, including some that depicted sexual acts.

But in the midst of a confusing back and forth with reporters regarding how many videos and how many potential victims there were, Rackauckas responded “more than a thousand.” At the time, it wasn’t immediately clear whether he was referring to the number of alleged victims or videos.

Some subsequent news articles included references to there potentially being “more than a thousand victims.” Other news outlets, including the Orange County Register, wrote at the time that prosecutors didn’t know how many potential victims there were.

It was later determined that none of the videos seized by prosecutors showed sexual assaults.