An investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has accused DA Todd Spitzer of colluding with defense attorneys representing a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend in order to sabotage a rape case against the couple, according to a newly filed lawsuit against the county.
Attorneys for Jennifer Kearns, who was the lead investigator in the criminal case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, allege in a civil complaint that Spitzer improperly retaliated against her.
“After his selection as DA, Spitzer apparently colluded with the defense while engaging in a concerted political campaign to undermine the prosecution, discredit the victims and ultimately destroy the criminal case against the criminal defendants,” the lawsuit states.
DA spokeswoman Kimberly Edds noted that prosecutors who were assigned to the case wrote in court filings that they reviewed the evidence “without interference and without any pre-ordained conclusion” from Spitzer or other department higher-ups.
“Anyone can make allegations in a claim, but those are not facts,” Edds said. “We look forward to litigating this in a court of law where it belongs.”
Representatives for Robicheaux and Riley and their defense team did not respond to a request for comment.
Kearns, a veteran sex crimes investigator with the Long Beach Police Department who joined the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in 2017, has become a key figure in the controversial criminal case against Robicheaux and Riley. According to the lawsuit, Kearns took a lead role in the investigation following initial reports from several alleged victims to the Newport Beach Police Department.
During the tenure of former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Robicheaux and Riley were accused of meeting women at restaurants and bars in Newport Beach, then drugging them and luring them back to Robicheaux’s apartment to sexually assault them.
Under Spitzer, prosecutors have reversed course, saying a review of the case turned up no evidence of sexual assault and instead claiming the couple were not sexual predators but instead swingers who took part in consensual sexual encounters and drug use.
The lawsuit alleges that Spitzer took seasoned prosecutors off the Robicheaux and Riley case and instead assigned it to less experienced attorneys prior to seeking a dismissal. It also alleges that Spitzer was “openly expressing contempt” for the alleged victims.
Spitzer’s request to dismiss the case was refused by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones, who argued it should go before a jury and not be dropped as part of a “back-room dismissal.” Jones later took the rare step of removing local prosecutors from the case and transferring it to the California Attorney General’s Office.
The district attorney’s office repeatedly has criticized Kearns for her role in the investigation, alleging she used “overtly suggestive interview techniques” with the accusers and engaged in a “whisper campaign” with higher-ups in the DA’s office in order to exaggerate the alleged evidence against Robicheax and Riley.
In a previous court filing, prosecutors with the DA’s office, referring to Kearns, wrote that the “toxicity” of the case stemmed from “the poisonous results of investigative impropriety.”
Judge Jones was not convinced, finding “no fault” by Kearns and other investigators.
According to the lawsuit, Kearns was removed from her role as lead investigator in the case in January 2020 and placed on administrative leave. Since then, the lawsuit alleges, Spitzer and other DA’s office leaders have “continued to undermine (Kearns’) credibility, reputation and good standing as a DA investigator.”
The lawsuit alleges that DA officials notified the California attorney general that there was alleged misconduct in Kearns’ personnel file related to the Robicheaux case. Edds said the DAs office was required to disclose those issues.
Attorneys for Robicheax and Riley have described Kearns as “the heart” of the investigation and criminal case, suggesting her alleged conduct will continue to play a major role in the ongoing court proceedings.
Edds confirmed that Kearns is still employed by the DA’s office.
The civil lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.