Mario Batali, the celebrity chef who surrendered his restaurant empire after several women accused him of sexual harassment and assault, was arraigned Friday on a charge that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman in a Back Bay restaurant in 2017.
Batali, 58, is accused of indecent assault and battery, the first criminal charge to arise from a series of sexual misconduct allegations against him. On Friday, he stood somberly in Boston Municipal Court and pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 2½ years in county jail.
Batali was released on his own recognizance and ordered to stay away from the alleged victim, Natali Tene, who last year filed a civil suit against Batali over the alleged assault on March 31, 2017.
“OK, Mr. Batali . . . try to stay out of trouble,” Judge Thomas Horgan said to Batali, whose once stout frame looked considerably thinner. “I want you to stay away from the alleged victim in this case.”
Any violations of his conditions of release would lead to 90 days in jail, Horgan warned. He asked Batali if he understood that he did not have to attend his next court hearing July 12.
“Yes,” Batali said softly.
Batali, who wore his red hair in his signature ponytail, a suit jacket and navy rumpled pants and orange and gray sneakers, left the courthouse trailed by reporters and flanked by court officers who led him to a black SUV that waited outside.
His lawyer, Anthony Fuller, ignored requests for comments from reporters as he left the courthouse. He denied the accusations in a statement released Wednesday night, when the Globe first reported the charges.
“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit,” Fuller said. “He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali.”
Tene was eating at Towne Stove + Spirits on March 31, 2017 when she saw Batali sitting a few seats away, according to a criminal compliant filed in court.
Tene said she was taking a picture of Batali over her shoulder when he noticed her and told her to “come here right now,” the complaint stated.
She went to apologize and told him she would erase the photo, but Batali offered to take a selfie with her. As she stood next to his bar stool, Tene said Batali put his arm around her and grabbed her breasts. He started kissing her and put his hands between her legs, according to the complaint. Tene said she tried to pull away, but Batali kept “pulling on her face.”
“Batali told her he was staying at the Mandarin Oriental and asked if she wanted to join him there,” according to the complaint. “The victim told him no and went back to her friend.”
Her friend asked her: “ ‘Who was that guy? . . . Why was he being handsy with you?’ ” according to the complaint.
In the civil lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Tene’s attorneys wrote that the encounter left her badly shaken.“Without asking her permission or giving her any warning, and without having received any indication that she had any sexual interest in him whatsoever, which she did not, Batali sexually assaulted her,” her lawyers, Eric Baum and Matthew Fogelman, wrote in the complaint.
On Thursday, the lawyers thanked prosecutors for pursuing the charges.
“Mario Batali abused his celebrity status . . . [and] must be held accountable . . . for his despicable acts,” Baum and Fogelman said in a statement.
Batali was arraigned as the New York Times reported that Harvey Weinstein and board members of his former film studio, the Weinstein Company, had reached a tentative $44 million agreement to settle lawsuits brought by the New York State attorney general and by women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Batali and Weinstein are two of a small number of men implicated in the #MeToo movement who have faced criminal charges for allegedly sexually assaulting women.
Batali was not charged in New York for cases of sexual misconduct following a police investigation.
That Suffolk County prosecutors chose to charge Batali shows they believe the case against him is strong, said Benedict Morelli, a New York-based lawyer who has represented victims of sexual harassment.
“Most of the time you’re going to find that there is just not enough evidence to convict these people because, let’s face it, when these men do these things, and they do it often, there are not other people witnessing it,” Morelli said. “That’s one of the reasons why you’ll find that they’re not going to be charged criminally, because the DA’s office is going to look and say, ‘Listen, if we can’t win this case, it’s very high-profile, we’re going to look bad that we charged him and didn’t get him.’ ”