FULLERTON, Calif. (CNS) -- Signaling an end to the long-running, politically charged prosecution of a Newport Beach hand surgeon and his girlfriend who were initially accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a series of women they met in bars or other settings, a judge said Friday he will dismiss most of the remaining charges in the case.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Leversen agreed to dismiss felony charges of poisoning and sale of phencyclidine against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 43, and Cerissa Riley, 36.
Robicheaux's attorney told Leversen the doctor wanted to make an "open plea" on remaining felony counts of possession of an assault weapon and four misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance, including GHB, more commonly known as the date-rape drug. Riley no longer faces any criminal charges.
The attorneys will return to court Nov. 29 to discuss a "settlement conference," which could be done before another judge, Leversen said. The attorneys met in the judge's chambers when Robicheaux's attorney said he wanted to determine an "indicated sentence" his client would receive in exchange for his guilty plea to the remaining charges.
"We are reviewing the court's ruling and will respond as appropriate in court," the Attorney General's media office said when asked for comment on the ruling.
Barring further developments, Friday's action marks a winding down of a case that began five years ago in the heat of a re-election bid by then-District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who held a widely covered news conference to announce the charges. The case quickly became a target of then-DA candidate Todd Spitzer, who criticized Rackauckas' handling of the case and questioned why Rackauckas did not move faster to file it.
After he was elected, Spitzer called for an internal review of the case, assigned two new prosecutors to the matter and then moved to dismiss all of the charges. That drew protests from several of the alleged victims and an Orange County Superior Court judge refused to toss the case.
Spitzer's office was eventually recused from the case and the Attorney General's Office took over.
Robicheaux initially faced charges involving five alleged victims and Riley three alleged victims, but a prior Orange County Superior Court judge granted a motion from prosecutors to reduce the charges. There were initially a total of 13 accusers, some of whom prosecutors had planned to use as witnesses to show a pattern of behavior at trial.
By the time the case got to a preliminary hearing there were only two alleged victims.
After a roller-coaster ride of various court rulings, dismissals and refiling of charges, only one alleged victim remained in the case -- a woman who initially began chatting with Robicheaux in 2016 via the Bumble app and said she trusted him because he was a doctor who once appeared on a TV show on Bravo.
When she eventually met him, she was surprised when Riley came along since she thought she was going on a "date," but Robicheaux introduced Riley not as his girlfriend but as a "good friend from out of town."
Prosecutors argued that the pair spiked her drink, and the next thing she remembered was waking up at Robicheaux's house and being fondled in a sexual manner by the doctor and his girlfriend.
Leversen tossed out sexual assault charges following a July preliminary hearing, which left only the poisoning and drug possession charges remaining against the pair, which the judge dismissed Friday.
It was still unclear when Robicheaux will enter his guilty plea to the remaining charges. The timing is complicated by the fact the alleged victim in the poisoning counts is in the Israeli military and is serving in the war against Hamas.
Attorneys said the woman wants to address the judge if a plea deal is struck in the case.
At issue in the defense motion to dismiss the poisoning charges was whether the statute of limitations had already run. Defense attorney Philip Cohen argued that the deadline in the statute had passed, while Deputy Attorney General James Toohey argued that it hadn't because the alleged dosing of the drinks was part of the overall objective of a sexual assault on the woman.
The argument in court on Friday then turned on whether prosecutors would be arguing the sexual assault claims to make their case before a jury, which ultimately prompted Leversen to grant the defense motion to dismiss the charges.
"I thought I said that very clearly at the preliminary hearing," Leversen said of the allegations that the defendants attempted to sexually assault the victim.
"There was no indication there were drinks forced down her throat or that anyone made her take cocaine in the bathroom" of the club they were at, Leversen said. "She said she didn't want to participate (in sex) and she didn't participate."
The judge said the woman then called for a ride home and left.
Prosecutors, however, argued that the duo kept adding drugs to the mix of alcohol to finally overcome any of her resistance.
"When Riley offered Jane Doe water, she accepted," the prosecution said in court papers. "Robicheaux retrieved the water from the closet, put a powdery substance in the bottle, shook it up, and gave it to Riley, who gave it to Jane Doe. Although she initially drank the water because she was slow to react in her impaired state, she realized it was not a good idea to drink it and stopped because it was not safe. Robicheaux told her PCP had been put into the water."