A Street Cur Named Cavallo
Courtesy pool photographer
Ygnacio Nanetti/The Orange
County RegisterThe Haidl trial went to the jury on March 17. Whatever the verdict, one thing is clear: long after locals forget Greg Haidl, they'll remember Haidl's attorney, Joseph G. Cavallo. They'll remember him as the shameless brute with cantaloupe-sized biceps, a Jersey accent and high-end suits. They'll remember his habit of preparing for trial as if he wanted not merely to beat but to destroy legal opponents. They'll recall that he bullies witnesses, taunts prosecutors and mocks judges. They'll remember he's capable of unleashing a frightening stream of obscenities at reporters he believes aren't fair to his clients.
A few will recall his soft side. He'll open doors for strangers, offer sincere words of encouragement and loves to laugh. His employees vigorously defend his character. Even his critics admit he's a kindhearted—even doting—father and loyal friend.
He says the machismo was something he picked up in the New Jersey of his youth. "Man, you had to be tough," he told the Weekly. "I learned how to defend myself. I learned that you can't show weakness or you're dead."
That style often got Cavallo into trouble in the Haidl gang-rape case, which was in the third day of jury deliberations as we went to press. He's frequently called the alleged victim, 16 years old and unconscious at the time of the videotaped incident, a "slut." He has demanded to know why she wasn't charged with raping the three, older male defendants. During his March 16 closing argument, he shocked court observers when he claimed it was impossible to tell how far the defendants shoved a pool cue inside the girl's anus because "her rump is so big."
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But Cavallo may have outdone himself on March 17, the last day of the trial. When he entered the courtroom, he saw Jane Doe's parents, grandmother and a sexual-assault counselor sitting in the front row. He said, "Oh, they put all the scum in the front row."
The defense lawyer then got a deputy to hassle the family. "You need to move out of these seats," the officer said. "Why?" asked Mr. Doe. "Security reasons," the deputy tersely replied. Cavallo smiled as the family moved, but the games weren't over.
Minutes later, Cavallo scribbled something on his yellow legal pad and flashed it at Doe's parents. In an apparent reference to a possible future civil lawsuit filed by the Doe family against Haidl, the heir to a Newport Beach family fortune, his note read, "NO $$$." Cavallo grinned. The family, which has been through hell because of the rape case, sat quietly, shaking their heads in disgust.
In a March 18 phone interview, Cavallo conceded he was surprised to see Doe's family in the courtroom, but he disputed saying anything inappropriate.
"I just said, 'I don't believe it,'" remembered Cavallo. "I wouldn't call them scum; they aren't. Some people may have a hard time believing it, but I feel for what that family has been through. It's been tough on them. It's been tough on Jane Doe, too. This case has been tough on everybody."
But what about flashing the "No $$$" sign at Doe's family?
"Yeah, I did do that," Cavallo admitted.
After the sideshow in court that morning, prosecutor Chuck Middleton, the chief assistant DA, made his final remarks to jurors. He displayed a simple chart that read:
"All these people have the same rights no matter what their sexual history is," said Middleton. "Each of them can be a sexual-assault victim under the law which governs this case. Even if payment had been exchanged for sex, all bets are off once that person passes out and cannot consciously consider whether she wants to have sex or withdraw consent. The law does not allow the assumption that a woman's sexual history renders her body an object which can be used and abused for another person's sexual, criminal gratification.
"These defendants were not concerned about her participation," the prosecutor continued. "They welcomed her unconsciousness because she could not say, 'no.' They even tested her lack of consciousness by pinching her nipples, flicking her cheeks and slapping her butt. Jane Doe could not stop them. She was merely an object to be penetrated. They used and abused her body like a piece of meat. The evidence is real, direct and overwhelming."
Cavallo wasn't impressed. He knew he couldn't speak to the jury again, but his street-fighter instincts wouldn't let him rest, either. Sitting at the defense table, he made faces. He scribbled notes. He grunted. He even shook his head slowly in hopes his passion would impress a juror.
"I've done all I can do to help these boys," he said as the jury deliberated.
Middleton believes the jury isn't gullible and remains confident of convictions. But meeting with reporters in the courthouse parking lot, Cavallo's defense-team colleague Peter Scalisi predicted the Haidl Three would be acquitted on all counts. If he's right, the verdict would mark the second straight Haidl defeat for Tony Rackauckas, a district attorney whom some have regarded as omnipotent. And then there will be only one question: What sane criminal defendant wouldn't want to hire Joe the Cur?
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