BOSTON ( Associated Press) — The pandemic-delayed trial of celebrity chef Mario Batali on sexual misconduct allegations began in Boston on Monday.
Batali pleaded not guilty in 2019 to a charge of indecent assault and battery, stemming from allegations that he forcibly kissed and held her after taking a selfie with a woman at a Boston restaurant in 2017. The woman says that Batali saw her being photographed and invited her. together, then touched and kissed her repeatedly without her consent.
If convicted, Batali faces up to 2 1/2 years in prison and is required to be registered as a sex offender. Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office said he is expected to remain in court throughout the proceedings, which should last approximately two days after jury selection is complete.
Batali’s lawyers did not comment before the jury selection began on Monday in Boston Municipal Court. Chef’s lawyers had earlier said that the allegation was baseless.
His accuser also filed a civil suit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for “serious emotional distress” that is still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. His lawyer did not respond to emails on Friday.
Batali is among several high-profile men who have faced public protests in recent years during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment.
The 61-year-old was once a part of the Food Network on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the ponytail- and orange croc-clad personality’s high-flying career was torn apart amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
He quit the ABC cooking show “The Chew” in 2017 after four women accused him of inappropriate touching, withdrawing from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire.
Batali has offered an apology, admitting the allegations “match” with the way he acted.
“I have made many mistakes and I am very sorry that I have 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 is no excuse. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partners, 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 alleging that Batali, restaurant managers and other workers had sexually assaulted the employees.
In Boston, they opened a branch of the popular Italian food market Eataly in the city’s Prudential Center in 2016 as well as a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Port District in 2015.
Batali has since been bought out of its stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations around the world, including Boston, and the city’s closed Babbo restaurant.