Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer tried to dismiss rape allegations against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend last year based on a review of the evidence in the event that a team of senior investigators in his office later found a mistake, according to an internal memo.
The investigators’ results were published in a July by Cmdr. Clint McCall to chief Paul M. Walters who heads the prosecution’s investigative office. The Times checked an edited copy of the memo that was filed in court Thursday.
The review ordered by Spitzer of the case against Grant Robicheaux (40) and Cerissa Riley (33) ordered by Spitzer from top to bottom was, according to the memo, “incomplete and contained inaccurate and misleading information”. These shortcomings prompted Spitzer prosecutors to argue in court why the couple’s charges, which “contained numerous unsupported allegations, false statements, falsehoods and factually inaccurate conclusions,” wrote McCall in the memo.
Kimberly Edds, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman, said the criticisms made in the memo were not a denunciation of the entire review of the Robicheaux case. She said investigators reached their conclusions regarding the case review after investigating the alleged wrongdoing of a prosecutor involved in the Robicheaux case and based their findings on a small portion of the case review.
“This internal memo was not a legal review of the evidence against Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley or their innocence or guilt,” she said. “This document was the final determination of a staff investigation into whether an investigator had included all relevant exculpatory information in her police reports.”
The memo and the internal departments highlighted in it mark another twist in a case that has been controversial for the past two years.
Robicheaux and Riley, a former school teacher, were first indicted in 2018 by Spitzer’s predecessor Tony Rackauckas. At the time, prosecutors painted the couple as sexual predators who used their good looks to hunt down vulnerable women, drug them, and bring them back to their posh Newport Beach home to attack.
Robicheaux was charged with sexually assaulting seven women while Riley was charged with five. The couple pleaded not guilty and denied any non-consensual sex. Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who represents Robicheaux, declined to comment on the memo.
In 2019, shortly after Spitzer became the district’s chief prosecutor, he hired two deputy prosecutors to review all of the evidence gathered in the case. The unusual move came after a prosecutor pointed out “serious evidence problems” with the case, Spitzer said at the time.
Within three months, prosecutors viewed thousands of photos and videos captured by 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 over a four-year period .
Ultimately, they discovered that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case beyond any doubt. Spitzer accused his predecessor of going too far in the case to step up his re-election campaign and moved to drop the charges. However, the motion was denied by Judge Gregory Jones of the Orange County Superior Court. Instead, Jones removed the prosecutor from the case and ordered it to be turned over to the California attorney general.
During a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Deputy Atty. General Yvette Martinez said her office is still reviewing documents to make sure they received all of the evidence related to the case.
“We are doing a very thorough and independent review of the case,” said Martinez.
Spitzer’s review of the case was examined during a staff investigation into a prosecutor’s investigator Jennifer Kearns.
In court records, prosecutors have alleged that Kearns omitted relevant information from reports she wrote about the case and alleged that she ran a “whispering campaign” to exaggerate evidence in favor of law enforcement.
The agency opened an investigation into Kearns’ actions, and as part of that investigation, investigators concluded that the review ordered by Spitzer was missing. Officials also decided that Kearns should receive additional report writing training.
Matt Murphy, a former prosecutor in the prosecution who represents four women who accused Robicheaux and Riley of attacking them, said Thursday that no one from the attorney general reached the women.
“We’re trying to be cooperative, but I have to tell you that no one from the AG office has spoken to my clients,” he said during the hearing. “In this case, it’s totally unfair to the victims.”
Murphy and others also criticized prosecutors’ decision to prevent Kearns from speaking to anyone in the attorney general about the case without a supervisor present.
Adam E. Chaikin, an attorney for the Assn. the Orange County’s deputy sheriffs emailed Walters in October that the policy is likely to prevent Kearns from sharing necessary details about the case with prosecutors without fear of reprimand.
Edds said in a statement Thursday that the office cooperated with the attorney general and turned over any discoveries in their possession.
Spitzer “has ensured that the attorney general has full access to all the district attorney’s staff to help review the case and answer questions or provide clarifications,” she said. “The attorney general, not this office, determines who and when prosecutors speak to.”