Celebrity chef Mario Batali was found not guilty on Tuesday on charges of indecent assault and battery. As the Associated Press (AP) reported, the charges stemmed from allegations that Batali had "aggressively kissed and groped a Boston woman while taking a selfie at a bar in 2017."
Batali — the former star of Food Network programs such as "Iron Chef," "Mario Eats Italy" and "Molto Mario" — was one of the biggest names in the food world to be accused of sexual misconduct during the initial wave of #MeToo movement. In addition to facing two and a half years in jail, Batali would have had to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Prosecutors argued that Batali was clearly drunk in photos taken at the bar, according to the AP. Boston Municipal Court James Stanton concluded that Batali "did not cover himself in glory on the night in question."
"His conduct, his appearance and his demeanor were not befitting of a public person of his stature at that time," Stanton said.
However, Stanton reportedly "agreed with Batali's lawyers that the accuser had credibility issues and that photos suggested the encounter was amicable." Antony Fuller, Batali's attorney, claimed that the accuser was an "admitted liar," and said that "in her world, truth is a flexible concept."
"Pictures are worth a thousand words," the judge said upon delivering his verdict.
In 2017, four other women accused Batali of inappropriate touching. In that instance, Batali acknowledged that "much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted."
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At the time, Batali stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurants, was bought out of his stake in the Italian market Eataly and stopped hosting "The Chew" (which ABC has since axed from its daytime schedule).
"I have made many mistakes," he said in a subsequent email newsletter. "My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility."
Last year, Batali and Joe Bastianich, his former business partner, agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees who were "survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination" at restaurants they owned, according to the New York attorney general's office. The settlement was the culmination of a four-year probe.
"Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator," Attorney General Letitia James said at the time. "Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting. Every individual deserves to work in a safe environment, and today's agreement marks one more step towards remedying workplace harassment. I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behavior for their bravery, selflessness and commitment to accountability."