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Chef Mario Batali on trial in Boston sexual misconduct case

BOSTON (AP) — Celebrity chef Mario Batali’s pandemic-delayed trial on sexual misconduct allegations opens Monday in Boston.

Batali pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery in 2019, stemming from accusations that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman after taking a selfie with her at a Boston restaurant in 2017. The woman says Batali noticed her photographing him and invited her to take one together, then touched and kissed her repeatedly without her consent.

If convicted, Batali could face up to 2 1/2 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender. He’s expected to be in court throughout the proceedings, which should last about two days once jury selection is complete, said Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office.

Lawyers for Batali didn’t comment ahead of the start of jury selection Monday in Boston Municipal Court. The chef’s lawyers have previously said the charge is without merit.

His accuser has also filed a civil lawsuit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for “severe emotional distress” that’s still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. Her lawyer didn’t respond to emails Friday.

Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced a public reckoning 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 ponytail- and orange Croc-wearing personality’s high-flying career crumbled amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, after which he stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left the since-discontinued ABC cooking show “The Chew.”

Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging the allegations “match up” with ways he has acted.

“I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team,” 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 their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve 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 Italian food marketplace Eataly in the 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 his stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations worldwide including in Boston, and the Babbo restaurant in the city has since closed.

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