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Grand Jury Indicts O.C. Lawyer

Joseph Cavallo, who defended the son of an ex-sheriff's official in a gang rape trial, denies paying for referrals in any bail bond scheme.

October 07, 2005|Christine Hanley and H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writers

A prominent attorney known for his aggressive defense of a former Orange County sheriff official's son in a gang rape trial has been indicted in an alleged bail bonds scheme.

Joseph G. Cavallo was indicted by a county grand jury along with George Castro of Xtreme Bail Bonds in Santa Ana, according to their attorneys. The indictment, handed up Wednesday, will be unsealed this morning.

Cavallo and Castro planned to surrender today before an arraignment hearing in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the indictment until it was unsealed. But investigators have acknowledged that they were looking into complaints about schemes in which jail inmates steer business -- sometimes by force -- to certain bond agents and attorneys for a financial kickback.

Cavallo's attorney, John D. Barnett, said he believed the indictment alleged that Cavallo paid for attorney referrals. But Barnett said his client "never paid a nickel for a referral" and "the only crime he ever committed was being a vigorous and effective advocate for people committed of crimes."

Pete Scalisi, who is representing Castro, defended him as a "hard-working, ethical and honest guy who is innocent of any wrongdoing."

The indictment adds another layer of intrigue to the relationships between some of Orange County's most powerful and politically connected figures.

Cavallo, Scalisi and Barnett worked together to defend Gregory Haidl and two other young men accused of plying a 16-year-old girl with alcohol and sexually assaulting her in 2002 at the Corona del Mar home of then-Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl.

Cavallo became a lightning rod for controversy with his courtroom attacks on the girl's credibility, starting with an opening statement in which he depicted her as a sex-crazed teen who sold drugs to children.

The three defendants were convicted in March after a retrial and await sentencing.

Haidl's father, who had been appointed to his position after helping bankroll Sheriff Michael S. Carona's first campaign, resigned from the department last year to focus on his son's case.

Cavallo is also defending George Jaramillo, another former assistant sheriff and a onetime Carona confidante. Jaramillo, whom the sheriff fired early last year, faces bribery charges. He is accused of using his position as a ranking lawman to help a Newport Beach businessman show off his invention, a laser device that would disable fleeing cars.

Jaramillo maintains his innocence and has sued to get his job back.

Cavallo, once a Carona political ally, now has a legal claim pending against the sheriff, accusing him of bullying and threatening Cavallo for representing Jaramillo.

Barnett suggested Thursday that the timing of Cavallo's indictment was no coincidence and that his client was being punished for filing the legal claim and taking on unpopular cases.

"It looks like what it is ... an attempt to punish an extremely vocal and vigorous criminal defense attorney who takes on unpopular cases and defends his clients very vigorously," Barnett said.

Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, dismissed Barnett's assertion.

"Many defense attorneys in this county vigorously advocate their clients' interests every day, and in order for anyone to be indicted by a grand jury, there has to be probable cause that they committed a crime," she said.

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