The pandemic-delayed trial of celebrity chef Mario Batali over sexual misconduct allegations begins Monday in Boston.
Batali pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent assault and battery in 2019, stemming from allegations that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman after taking a selfie with her at a Boston restaurant in 2017. The woman says Batali he noticed that she was photographing him and invited her to take a photo together, then repeatedly touched and kissed her without her consent.
If convicted, Batali could face up to two and a half years in jail and will be required to register as a sex offender. He is expected to be in court throughout the proceedings, which should last about two days once jury selection is complete, Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office said.
Batali’s attorneys had no comment before jury selection began Monday in Boston Municipal Court. The chef’s lawyers have previously said the charge is baseless.
His accuser also filed a civil lawsuit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for “severe emotional distress” that is still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. His attorney did not respond to emails Friday.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced public prosecution during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
The 61-year-old was once a Food Network fixture on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the personality’s high-flying career came crashing down amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Four women accused him of inappropriately touching them in 2017, after which he resigned from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left ABC’s cooking show “The Chew.”
Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging that the accusations “match” the ways in which he has acted.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m so sorry I let my friends, my family, my fans and my team down,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partner, and his New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office into allegations that Batali, restaurant managers and other workers sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened a branch of the popular Eataly Italian food market in 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 its stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations around the world, including in Boston, and the Babbo restaurant in the city has since closed.
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Chef Mario Batali in court over sexual misconduct case in Boston