Celebrity chef Mario Batali acquitted of sexual misconduct – Twin Cities
By PHILIPP MARCELO
BOSTON (AP) — Mario Batali was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery on Tuesday, following a speedy trial in which the celebrity chef waived his right to have a judge decide. jury his fate in a criminal case stemming from the global #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment.
The 61-year-old former Food Network personality quickly walked out of the courtroom with his attorneys without commenting on the case, which centered on allegations that he aggressively kissed and groped a Boston woman while that he was taking a selfie in a bar in 2017.
In delivering the verdict, Boston City Court Judge James Stanton agreed with Batali’s attorneys that the accuser had credibility issues and that the photos suggested the meeting was amicable.
“Pictures are worth a thousand words,” he said.
But the judge also reprimanded Batali while suggesting the former star of shows like ‘Molto Mario’ and ‘Iron Chef America’ has already paid “a heavy cost” in terms of diminished reputation and financial loss.
“To say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question is an understatement,” Stanton said after prosecutors claimed he was visibly drunk in the photos. “His conduct, appearance and demeanor were not befitting a public figure of his stature at the time.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden said he was disappointed with the verdict, but Batali’s grateful accuser had come forward.
“It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault,” he said in a statement. “When the individual who has committed such a heinous act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become all the more difficult and daunting.”
Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, took a calculated bet that Stanton, a former Republican candidate for state representative appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, would rule more favorably than a Boston jury.
Seeking a trial without a jury or a bench is often a strategy employed when a defendant may appear unlikable to jurors.
This was the case of Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts teenager infamously charged with manslaughter for urging her suicidal boyfriend to kill himself in text messages and who was the subject of “The Girl from Plainville”, a show 2022 Hulu starring Elle Fanning.
In Carter’s case, however, the strategy did not work and she was convicted and sentenced to over a year in prison.
Batali faced up to 2½ years in prison and would have had to register as a sex offender if convicted.
His accuser, who also left the courtroom without speaking to reporters, had testified that she felt confused and powerless to do anything to stop Batali at the time.
But in his closing statements, Batali’s attorney, Antony Fuller, described the 32-year-old Boston-area resident as a financially motivated “admitted liar” because she filed a lawsuit seeking more of $50,000 in damages to Batali.
“In his world, truth is a flexible concept,” he said, referring to the woman’s recent admission of trying to avoid jury duty by pretending to be clairvoyant, which was at center of the two-day trial.
Prosecutor Nina Bonelli countered in her closing statement that Batali’s lawyers were trying to “demonize” the woman, when it was their client who was being tried for her conduct.
She said the woman tried to ‘defuse’ unwanted touching by simply ‘smiling’ in the photos.
“The kisses, the touching. She never asked for it. She never consented to it,” she said. “She just wanted a selfie.”
Batali was arguably the most high-profile chef and restaurateur accused of sexual misconduct at the height of the #MeToo movement, which particularly rocked the food and drink industry.
After four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, he quit the day-to-day operations of his restaurant empire and quit the since-discontinued ABC cooking show “The Chew.”
Batali also apologized, acknowledging that the allegations “fit” the way he acted.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there is no excuse. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York restaurant business agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office into allegations which Batali and other staff allegedly sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he had opened a branch of the popular Italian food market Eataly and a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District. But it has since been bought out of its stake in Eataly, and Babbo’s restaurant in Boston has closed.