Judge James Stanton noted Batali’s conduct was “not befitting of a public person of his stature” that night five years ago but said his accuser has “significant credibility issues” that supported the defendant’s “contention that her motive was financial gain.”
Batali, wearing a sport coat, smiled after the verdict and thanked his attorneys. His accuser hurried out of the courtroom as soon as the judge declared the defendant not guilty.
The verdict came one day after Natali Tene took the stand at Batali’s criminal trial in Boston, testifying that he groped her during an impromptu selfie session in 2017.
Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden, in a statement, said the verdict was disappointing and that his 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,” Hayden said. “When the individual who committed such an abhorrent act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become all the more challenging and intimidating.”
Hayden said he was grateful to the accuser for coming forward and “to every survivor of sexual assault who makes that difficult decision. My office is available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence in Suffolk County to ensure that (they) are met with the level of compassion and care they deserve.”
Tene said she posed for photos with Batali while, out-of-frame, he took advantage of her as she was standing close to him for the photos.
“His right hand is all over my breasts, all over my rear end, all between my legs,” Tene said. “I’ve never been grabbed like that before … squeezing my vagina and pulling me closer to him. As if that’s a normal way to pull someone in.”
He denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Defense attorney Anthony Fuller said during his opening statement Monday, “The photos and videos don’t support her testimony.”
Stanton said Batali’s conduct, appearance and demeanor at the restaurant “is a lesson for all of those people in public or celebrity positions” and that he “paid a high cost in terms of diminished reputation and financial loss.”
But the municipal court judge said the case was about credibility and called Tene’s conduct as a sworn juror in another case “egregious and … offensive to the rule of law.” He said testimony about an alleged scheme by Tene to evade a $200 gym membership with a “fictitious legal document” also damaged her credibility.
“These were just two of the issues but they were significant in the mind of the court,” Stanton said. “And they support the defendant’s contention that her motive was financial gain.”
Tene testifies she was ‘nervous, shocked, alarmed’
The evening started, Tene testified Monday, when she met a friend at around 9 p.m. on March 31, 2017, at Towne Stove and Spirits, a restaurant in Boston the pair frequently visited.
Tene recognized Batali taking a seat near her at the bar around midnight, she said. Batali was a few seats away when she tried to covertly take a photo of him on her phone, she testified.
Tene said her friend told her Batali caught her sneaking the picture and wanted her to come over, probably to delete the photo. Tene walked over and apologized to Batali, she said, promising to delete the photo if he wanted.
“He said, ‘No, it was fine, no worries, let’s actually take some selfies instead,'” Tene testified.
Tene took about 10 selfies with her phone at around 12:37 a.m., she said, and their heads, faces, shoulders and whatever could fit in the frame were visible.
“He has his face pressed up against mine and he’s pulling my body closer to his,” she said.
“He’s kissing the side of my face. He has his other arm wrapped behind me,” Tene said as the photos were displayed in court. She noted that they took a few photos, saying they weren’t good because they weren’t looking at the camera.
“His hands were in sensitive areas, touching me, touching my body,” she said. “It was like a selfie, but other things were happening simultaneously … His other hand that can’t be seen is touching my body in sensitive areas.”
Batali kept asking to take more selfies and can be heard asking, “Does that work” in one of the live photos, she said.
“It all happened so fast and it was happening the whole time, in different parts,” Tene said, recapping the ways Batali allegedly grabbed her.
Tene noticed Batali’s eyes weren’t open in some of the photos and he reeked of alcohol, she testified. “This guy was wasted, for lack of a better term,” Tene said.
Batali then allegedly asked Tene to come to his hotel room, she testified, saying she got chills when he asked.
“Kind of like, mortified, disgusted,” Tene said. “That sensation that this was not right. Overall, this was very uncomfortable.”
Tene left and went back to her house. Later, she told her friend about the alleged attack and said the pair agreed to never eat again at Eataly, an Italian food market co-owned by Batali at the time.
Tene later testified she spoke to a journalist at Eater, detailing her account after the reporter wrote a story about other women who had been allegedly grabbed by Batali, Tene said.
Tene hired legal representation and filed a civil suit, she said, but says she isn’t looking for money.
“This happened to me and this is my life and I want to take control of what happened, come forward and say my piece,” Tene said.
Defense questions motives, photos
Fuller, the defense attorney, cross-examined Tene, quizzing her about the night of the alleged assault and her subsequent motives.
Fuller went through each of the images Tene took of her and Batali and focused on one photo that showed space between where they stood, highlighting that floor tile was visible in the photo between the two.
“He was grabbing you, pulling you closer, was he?” asked Fuller, who said there was roughly eight inches of space between the pair.
“He definitely was,” responded Tene.
“Doesn’t look like it in this photo,” Fuller said.
“He’s grabbing my ass,” Tene said.
Fuller highlighted a gap in time between the first batch of photos and the second batch, three minutes later. Fuller argued the gap in time showed she wasn’t in danger. He also challenged Tene on her facial expressions in the photos, saying it wasn’t a grimace like she testified, but a smile.
Tene was also questioned about eating at Batali-owned restaurants, even though she told investigators in a deposition the thought of eating at those restaurants was disgusting. Fuller showed her bank statements that revealed she ate at Eataly with a friend who knew about the alleged attack.
Tene also disputed Fuller’s line of questioning about financial motivations and hiring legal counsel.
“I’m not looking for anything, I’m not seeking any particular amount,” Tene said. “What other way is there to make this situation right? I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
CNN’s Jean Casarez contributed to this report.