Haidl lawyer unpaid, suit says

Times Staff Writer

Orange County's former assistant sheriff and his son owe more than $1 million to a criminal-defense attorney who represented the son during two high-profile sexual-assault trials, according to a lawsuit filed by the lawyer.

Joseph G. Cavallo said he put his practice on hold for almost three years to defend Gregory Haidl, who along with two other defendants was ultimately convicted and sentenced to prison.

Cavallo filed the lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court last week against Haidl and his father, Donald, alleging they reneged on an oral agreement made after the younger Haidl was arrested in July 2002.

Gregory Haidl, 20, and two of his friends -- each now 21 -- were sentenced March 13, 2006, to six years in prison for the videotaped sexual assault of a seemingly unconscious 16-year-old girl at Donald Haidl's Corona del Mar home. Donald Haidl was an Orange County assistant sheriff at the time.

According to the suit, Cavallo and his law firm billed Donald Haidl for 5,256 hours in the first trial, which ended in a hung jury. Haidl "paid just a portion of the fees, but a significant balance remains," the suit says. Cavallo and his attorney, Daniel J. Callahan, declined to say how much he was paid for the first trial or how much he was still owed.

The lawsuit says Cavallo racked up an additional 2,100 billing hours in the second trial, which ended with convictions for all defendants in March 2005 but was never paid. Cavallo charged Donald Haidl a reduced fee of $350 per hour to defend his son, the suit says. But Callahan said he would ask for "reasonable compensation" of $400 per hour when the lawsuit went to trial.

At that rate, Cavallo is owed $840,000 for the second trial alone, not including interest, court costs, attorney fees and other damages he is seeking.

During the first trial, Cavallo worked on Gregory Haidl's case and "virtually nothing else," according to the lawsuit. In the second trial, Cavallo was forced to hire attorneys to represent his other clients, "as nearly 100% of his time" was spent on the Haidl case, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Cavallo offered to have an arbitrator settle the fee dispute, but Haidl did not respond to the offer.

In a telephone interview, Cavallo said Donald Haidl's refusal to pay his fee ended a close friendship that had included previous business agreements.

Cavallo said he was "stiffed and jacked around" by Donald Haidl and was the only lawyer in the case still awaiting payment.

Haidl confirmed that he paid the legal bills for the other defendants in the case but declined to say how much. He called Cavallo's lawsuit a publicity stunt.

"I will not play childish games or use the media to promote myself, my position or see my name in print," Haidl said. "Not only do I not owe him the money, it goes way past that, and he very well knows it. I won't stoop to 12-year-old-type insults, personal attacks or publicity stunts."

Cavallo sees it differently.

"For this guy to try to weasel out of paying for the services he got, well, it disappoints me," Cavallo said. "I gave him my life during this time, more than just my lawyering services. I was there 24/7 for every member of his family, at their beck and call."

Cavallo, an aggressive defense attorney whose courtroom tactics often rankle judges and prosecutors, said he last talked with Donald Haidl in September 2005 when they met at a Starbucks to discuss why he had not been paid.

Cavallo said Haidl was about to sit down "when I told him I was tired of being jacked around." Cavallo said Haidl "never touched the chair" and turned around and walked away.

Cavallo was indicted last year by the Orange County Grand Jury in a bail-bonds kickback case. He pleaded not guilty and sued the Orange County district attorney's office for $10 million, contending he was being selectively, wrongfully and vindictively prosecuted.



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