Celebrity chef Mario Batali faces lawsuit over groping wife claim in #MeToo era

BOSTON, May 9 (Reuters) – Celebrity chef Mario Batali is on trial on Monday over allegations that he groped and forcibly kissed a woman in the only criminal case to stem from multiple allegations of harassment and sexual assault by the #MeToo era that helped fuel his downfall.

Batali will appear in Boston City Court on Monday on a charge of indecent assault and assault against a woman at a bar who came forward to report her experience after other women accused the behavior count sexually aggressive.

The woman, Natali Tene, said Batali assaulted her after he posed with her in 2017 for “selfie” photos at Towne Stove and Spirits, a bar near Eataly in Boston, the Italian Market and the chain of restaurants that he partly owned at the time.

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Batali’s lawyers have called the allegations fabricated and argue that Tene surrendered to the police to support a lawsuit she is pursuing against him seeking a monetary settlement. “Our defense is that she lies and lies all the time,” Anthony Fuller, Batali’s attorney, said at a hearing in April.

Tene’s attorney declined to comment.

The case is one of a handful of criminal lawsuits against celebrities following the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, which exposed widespread patterns of sexual harassment or abuse of women in multiple spheres of society. American life.

If found guilty, Batali would face up to 2.5 years in prison and would have to register as a sex offender.

Prosecutors said Tene came forward with her account after food website Eater.com in December 2017 detailed allegations of four women who said Batali had touched them inappropriately for at least two decades.

This report prompted Batali to be fired from the ABC cooking and discussion show “The Chew”, and Batali later cut ties with restaurants like Babbo and Del Posto in New York that he partly owned. He denied the sexual assault allegations but apologized for his “deeply inappropriate” behavior.

Batali and his business partner agreed in July to pay at least 20 former employees $600,000 to resolve allegations by the New York attorney general that their Manhattan restaurants were plagued by sexual harassment.

As the trial approached, Batali’s lawyers and prosecutors argued over what evidence Judge James Stanton, who is overseeing the trial, would allow jurors to hear.

While prosecutors say Tene came forward to show solidarity with other women, Stanton decided they couldn’t question her about the allegations reported by Eater.

But Stanton also ruled that Batali’s lawyers could not, at trial, play a voicemail message left for police by a friend of Tene’s who was at the bar saying he didn’t want to see “a guy coming up the river to something that is not entirely true or correct.”

The judge said Batali’s lawyers can, however, question Tene on a questionnaire she filled out in February 2018 during jury selection in an unrelated assault case in which she said nothing about being accused. being the victim of a crime while pretending to be clairvoyant.

Text messages Batali’s lawyers obtained show she later wrote to a friend that she had researched the defendant online and he ‘totally did it’, despite instructions not to conduct a search outsiders and keep an open mind.

When the text messages emerged, Middlesex County prosecutors agreed to overturn the man’s conviction due to jury bribery and charged Tene herself with contempt. On Thursday, she reached an agreement to have that case dismissed within a year after a period of administrative probation, according to court records.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nathalie Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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