Lawyer Bails Out, Refusing to Grill Wife in 'Gigolo' Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

First, he lost his Rolls-Royce and his freedom. Then, he lost his new wife, who was supposed to help protect him from the legal system.

And on Tuesday, Joseph (Mac) Duffy, the self-described "gigolo" whose wily ways with women and their money have been chronicled on "A Current Affair," even lost his attorney.

Defense attorney Jerry Steering declared a conflict of interest and, under prodding from a judge, took himself off the already-prolonged case, delaying it at least through next month. A second preliminary hearing for Duffy, 29, on charges that he bilked four local women out of tens of thousands of dollars through false promises, was to have begun Tuesday.

Steering told the court that he has become too close to Duffy's estranged wife--Sylvianne Lestringant, 42, of Laguna Niguel--to adequately cross-examine Duffy's one-time supporter.

Lestringant first asserted last year that Duffy had conned her out of $17,500 by wooing her with his expensive habits, then falsely claiming that he was a stockbroker. In love, she married him anyway, in an unsuccessful bid to help his case and avoid testifying against him.

But now she has filed for an annulment and reclaimed the bail she posted for Duffy because she is convinced that there's no chance of changing his ways.

Explaining his legal conflict, Steering said in an interview: "I'm friends with (Lestringant). I've learned many things about their relationship and about things that might ultimately affect the case, and I'm not going to go after her on the stand. I just can't bring myself to belittle her and impugn her character and further humiliate her."

Steering disclosed in court that Lestringant, before deciding that she wanted to call it quits with Duffy, had paid his defense costs. That posed yet another potential conflict.

Harbor Municipal Judge Susanne S. Shaw in Newport Beach was not pleased with the turn of events that slowed the court proceedings, and she let Steering know it.

She criticized the attorney's "attitude," told him that he was getting himself in "deeper and deeper" trouble and finally suggested that "the only smart thing for you to do would be to get off the case."

Steering complied.

With Steering gone, Shaw appointed a public defender to represent Duffy against the grand-theft charges and rescheduled his preliminary hearing for Aug. 7 in her courtroom.

It will be the second such hearing for Duffy, whose case has followed a circuitous legal route. Several of the counts against him have been dismissed, only to be refiled later, and Duffy himself has reversed his own pleas. He is now pleading not guilty to grand theft.

Tuesday's delay was disappointing to Lestringant and the three other alleged victims who appeared in court expecting to testify against Duffy. They all maintain that the blue-eyed golfer from Scotland used his good looks, fancy cars, expensive clothes and fast talk to bilk them out of perhaps $60,000 and sustain his lavish lifestyle.

Lestringant, while happy that Steering will not have the chance to cross-examine her about private matters that he learned from her, said she regrets the further delays.

"I just want this to be over--I want out," Lestringant said.

"I just tried to help a person, and it didn't work out. I wish him well, but I just want him away from me and my family," she added.

"He needs psychological help. He's not a violent man, he's not a bad man, but he needs help, and I found out I couldn't provide it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°