Judge James Stanton noted that Batali’s conduct was “not appropriate for a public figure of his stature” that night five years ago, but said his accuser has “significant credibility issues” that support the defendant’s “contention that their motive was financial gain.”
Batali, who was wearing a sports jacket, smiled after the verdict and thanked his lawyers.
The verdict came a day after Natali Tene took the stand in Batali’s criminal trial in Boston, testifying that he groped her during an impromptu selfie session in 2017.
Tene said she posed for photos with Batali while, off-screen, he took advantage of the star-dazzled patron while she stood close to him for photos.
“His right hand is on my breasts, on my butt, between my legs,” Tene said. “I’ve never been grabbed like this before… squeezing my vagina and pulling me closer to him. Like that’s a normal way to attract someone.”
He denied the accusations and pleaded not guilty. Defense attorney Anthony Fuller said during his opening statement Monday: “The photos and videos do not support his testimony.”
Tene testifies that she was “nervous, shocked, alarmed”
Tene testified Monday that the night began when he met a friend around 9 p.m. on March 31, 2017, at Towne Stove and Spirits, a restaurant in Boston the couple 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 picture of her with her phone, she testified.
Tene said her friend told her that Batali caught her sneaking the photo and wanted her to come over, likely to delete the photo. Tene came over and apologized to Batali, she said, promising to delete the photo if she wanted.
“He said, ‘No, it was fine, don’t worry, let’s take some selfies instead,'” Tene testified.
Tene took about 10 selfies on her phone around 12:37 a.m., she said, and their heads, faces, shoulders and anything else that could fit in the frame were visible.
“He has his face pressed 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 shown in court. She noticed they took some photos and said they weren’t good because they weren’t looking at the camera.
“His hands were on sensitive areas, touching me, touching my body,” she said. “It was like a selfie, but other things were happening simultaneously… his other hand, which you can’t see, is touching my body in sensitive areas.”
Batali kept asking to take more selfies and she can be heard asking, “Does that work?” in one of the live photos, she said she.
“It all happened so fast and it was happening all the time, in different parts,” Tene said, recapping the ways Batali allegedly grabbed her. “To be honest, I was kind of frozen. I put on a smile to calm things down. I was a little nervous, shocked, alarmed,” she said.
Tene noticed that Batali’s eyes were not open in some of the photos and that he reeked of alcohol, he testified. “This guy was lost, for lack of a better term,” Tene said.
Batali then allegedly asked Tene to come to his hotel room, he testified, saying he shivered when he asked.
“Kind of, mortified, disgusted,” Tene said. “That feeling that this wasn’t right. Overall, this was very uncomfortable.”
Tene left and returned home. She later told her friend about the alleged attack, saying the couple had agreed never again to eat at Eataly, an Italian food market co-owned by Batali at the time.
Tene later testified that she spoke to a reporter at Eater and detailed her account after the reporter wrote a story about other women who had allegedly been grabbed by Batali, Tene said.
Tene has hired legal representation and filed a civil suit, he said, but says he’s not looking for money.
“This happened to me and this is my life and I want to take control of what happened and come forward and say my part,” Tene said.
Defense questions motives, photos
Fuller, the defense attorney, questioned Tene, questioning her about the night of the alleged assault and her motives afterward.
Fuller reviewed each of the images Tene took of her and Batali and zeroed in on one photo that showed the space between them, noting that floor tiles were visible in the photo between the two.
“It was grabbing you, pulling you closer, right?” asked Fuller, who said there was about eight inches of space between the two of them.
“It definitely was,” answered Tene.
“It 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 that the gap in time showed that he was not in danger. He also questioned Tene about her facial expressions in the photos, saying that it was not a grimace as she testified, but a smile.
Tene was also questioned about eating at Batali-owned restaurants, even though she told investigators in a statement that the idea of eating at those restaurants was repugnant. Fuller showed her bank statements which revealed that she ate at Eataly with a friend who knew about the alleged attack.
Fuller also showed court photos that were taken at the same bar, Towne Stove and Spirits, where the alleged attack took place, the night before Eater published a story with his accusations.
“Towne wasn’t the scary place, it was the scary person. I felt pretty comfortable there,” Tene replied when asked why she wasn’t provoked by being in the same place and coming back several times after the alleged attack.
Tene also took issue with Fuller’s line of questioning about financial motivations and hiring legal counsel.
“I’m not looking for anything, I’m not looking for a particular amount,” Tene said. “What other way is there to fix this situation? I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
Fuller spent the remainder of his cross-examination trying to establish inconsistencies in Tene’s story, discussing his alleged attempts to get out of jury duty and claiming that he laughed about the incident over text messages with his friends.
Prosecutors plan to call to the stand a witness Tuesday morning who they say heard Tene’s entire story about a week after the alleged groping incident.