A Boston judge found celebrity chef Mario Batali not guilty Tuesday afternoon on charges of indecent assault and battery.
Judge James Stanton delivered the decision just a few hours after the defense and prosecution rested on the second day of the swiftly moving trial in Boston Municipal Court.
Batali waived his right to have a jury decide the verdict.
Batali, 61, was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a woman after taking a selfie with her at a Boylston Street restaurant in 2017.
“Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question,” Stanton said in the ruling. “His conduct and his appearance and his demeanor were not befitting of a public person of his stature at that time.”
“He’s paid a high cost in terms of diminished reputation and financial loss,” the judge said.
“This case is about credibility, and it’s the court’s job today to assess the credibility of the witnesses,” Stanton said. “It’s the court’s job to determine how much weight to give the testimony of the witnesses.”
“Complaining witness has significant credibility issues,” Stanton said in his ruling. “Those issues were highlighted in her testimony, her conduct as a sworn juror in another case and a criminal matter in Middlesex Superior Court was egregious and it was offensive to the rule of law.”
“While we’re disappointed in the judge’s verdict, my office will not waiver in our support for the victim in this case. It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault,” Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden said.
During closing statements, Batali’s lawyer Anthony Fuller argued the photos do not depict any assault, saying the photos show an “entirely consensual encounter between the two.”
Fuller said there was a three-minute break between the series of photos on the accuser’s phone.
“Her testimony is that he assaulted her in those first five photos. There is a three-minute break, and then she agrees to take more photos. It makes no sense,” Fuller said.
Fuller points out the “foot of space” between Batali and the accuser in one of the photos.
“There is a space between them. How could his right arm even get around to grab her breast?” Fuller asked. “He’d have to be Stretch Armstrong to do that. It is physically not possible to do what she says happened. The photos and videos do not lie.”
Fuller argued the assault never happened and that the accuser isn’t a credible witness and has a financial incentive to lie as she’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Batali in a separate civil lawsuit pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston.
The prosecution said during closing arguments that it is clear from the photos that Batali was “drunk and aggressive” and grabbing the accuser’s face.
“The kissing, the pulling, the groping — she never asked for it. She never wanted it. She never consented to it — all she wanted was a selfie,” prosecutor Nina Bonelli said.
Rachael Buckley, a friend of the accuser, testified Tuesday that she and the accuser spoke in person about the alleged incident once about one week after the selfies were taken. Buckley said the accuser told her where Batali allegedly had his hands during the alleged incident.
“She told me that it was her thighs, her groin, and her breasts,” Buckley said.
During cross-examination, the defense questioned Buckley about inconsistencies with her prior statements.
Buckley testified during a sworn deposition three years ago that the accuser did not say specifically where Batali touched her, but Buckley named specific locations during her testimony Tuesday.
On the night in question, the accuser texted a selfie with Batali to Buckley, but there was no mention of the alleged indecent assault and battery with which Batali is now charged.
Batali’s accuser took the stand Monday and explained what happened the night she saw Batali and took photos with him at Towne Stove & Spirits.
“His right hand is over my breast, all over my rear end, in between my legs, grabbing me in a way that I’ve never been touched before like that,” she said. “Like, squeezing in between my legs, squeezing my vagina to pull me closer to him — as if that is a normal way to grab someone — just between the legs to pull them toward you.”
The 32-year-old Boston-area software company worker said while they were taking the photos, Batali’s hands were in “sensitive areas” touching her body.
The trial has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, during his 2019 arraignment, Batali pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Several other women have previously come forward to allege sexual misconduct by Batali.
Batali stepped down from daily operations at his restaurant empire and cooking show “The Chew” in December 2017 after four women accused him of inappropriate touching.
Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging the allegations “match up” with ways he has acted.
“I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans, and my team,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
Batali opened a branch of the popular Italian food marketplace Eataly in Boston in the downtown Prudential Center in 2016 as well as a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District in 2015.
Batali has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations worldwide including in Boston, and the Babbo restaurant in the city has since closed.