SANTA ANA (CBSLA) - Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven D. Bromberg abruptly withdrew himself from a high-profile case involving a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend accused of drugging several women and then raping them.
Judge Bromberg had been criticized for mistreating attorneys on both sides.
Attorneys for 40-year-old Dr. Grant Robicheaux, a hand surgeon, and his 34-year-old girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, filed a motion on July 20 seeking to have the judge disqualified after several court hearings featured sharp exchanges between the Bromberg and prosecutors.
It was unclear whether Bromberg's decision was in response to the defense motion, but it came just weeks before he was expected to decide whether to approve a request by the California Attorney General's Office to drastically scale back the criminal charges against the couple.
Earlier this month, Bromberg granted a request by prosecutors to dismiss charges related to two alleged rape victims in the case. Both said they no longer wanted to participate, prosecutors said.
In the written defense motion, attorneys cited a heated June exchange where the judge questioned whether the prosecutors were capable of handling the case, saying there were "probably not a lot of sexual assault cases up there" in Marin County where one had previously worked.
The defense attorneys also argued that Bromberg made critical remarks about the defense team's attorney, Philip Cohen, saying the judge demonstrated bias against Cohen by saying he had misstated the law and misstated the facts of the case, which is "an assertion of intentional malfeasance against Robicheaux's attorney made in front of the press and the public.
"Such bias, whether real or apparent, absolutely precludes these defendants from reaching the appearance of a fair hearing or a fair trial before this judge," the defense motion stated.
Bromberg did not specify his reasons for the recusal, the Register reported.
The case was initially filed in 2018 by then Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, accusing Robicheaux and Riley of meeting women at restaurants and bars in Newport Beach before drugging them and luring them to the doctor's apartment to sexually assault them.
Robicheaux, who appeared on a 2014 episode of Bravo's "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male," and Riley have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Current Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer later said there wasn't enough evidence to proceed with the case and accused Rackauckas, a political rival, of mishandling the investigation, describing Robicheaux and Riley as swingers whose sexual encounters and drug use was consensual.
Prosecutors have previously said they wanted to narrow the charges down to one alleged victim.
In May, the state Attorney General's office, which took over the case from the Orange County district attorney in 2020, filed a motion asking for dismissal of 10 charges involving six of the seven alleged victims.
"We have no reason to believe that any of these victims are being untruthful," but a review found that some allegations couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, state prosecutors said.
As it stands, Robicheaux faces charges involving five alleged victims and Riley for three alleged victims. The next hearing in the case is set for Aug. 13.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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