Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald via AP
Mario Batali was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery on Tuesday after a speedy trial in which the celebrity chef waived his right to have his fate decided by a jury.
Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, had faced up to 2½ years in prison and would have had to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Batali’s accuser told the court how she was ‘shocked, surprised and alarmed’ when the 61-year-old former Food Network personality aggressively kissed and groped her as they took a selfie in a restaurant in Boston in 2017.
The 32-year-old software company employee said she felt confused and helpless to do anything to stop Batali as he touched her without her consent. She also filed a pending lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, which Batali’s attorney said gave her a financial incentive to lie.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced public judgment during the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
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-suspended 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.”
The trial opened on Monday with Batali – in a surprise move – waiving his right to a jury trial and opting instead to have the judge decide his fate.
Batali’s attorney argued the Boston assault never happened and the accuser was not a credible witness, focusing on the woman’s recent admission of trying to avoid jury service by pretending to be clairvoyant. She was also accused, in that case, of violating the judge’s orders to keep an open mind and not discuss the case with others.
In delivering the verdict, Boston City Court Judge James Stanton agreed with the claim that the accuser had credibility issues. The accuser and Batali left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
Batali was once a fixture on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the high-flying career of the personality wearing a ponytail and an orange crocodile crumbled amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
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.