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Suspension urged for client referral and capping scheme

JOSEPH CAVALLO, an Orange County lawyer known for his aggressive trial tactics, will be suspended for three years if a recommendation by a State Bar Court judge is accepted by the Supreme Court. Cavallo, 53, of Irvine, has been on interim suspension since 2007, after he was convicted of three felonies for illegally paying a bail bonds firm for client referrals. Cavallo was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years of probation and was ordered to pay an $18,000 fine.

State Bar Court Judge Richard A. Platel found that the circumstances surrounding the convictions involved moral turpitude. Cavallo “knowingly violated the law,” Platel wrote. “He was so worried about the financial health of his practice that he allowed his business concerns to take priority over his ethical and professional duties, even in the fact of criminal violations.”

Cavallo, who was politically conn

Suspension urged for client referral and capping scheme

JOSEPH CAVALLO, an Orange County lawyer known for his aggressive trial tactics, will be suspended for three years if a recommendation by a State Bar Court judge is accepted by the Supreme Court. Cavallo, 53, of Irvine, has been on interim suspension since 2007, after he was convicted of three felonies for illegally paying a bail bonds firm for client referrals. Cavallo was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years of probation and was ordered to pay an $18,000 fine.

State Bar Court Judge Richard A. Platel found that the circumstances surrounding the convictions involved moral turpitude. Cavallo “knowingly violated the law,” Platel wrote. “He was so worried about the financial health of his practice that he allowed his business concerns to take priority over his ethical and professional duties, even in the fact of criminal violations.”

Cavallo, who was politically connected to disgraced former Orange County Sheriff Michael Corona, pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to commit the crime of attorney capping, conspiracy to commit the crime of attorney recommendation by a bail licensee and violating the Insurance Code in connection with recommendations by a bail bondsman.

According to the State Bar charges, Cavallo paid between $300 and $500 each for 10 to 20 referrals from Xtreme Bail Bonds over a 26-month period. He allowed the owners of Xtreme to display his business cards in their office and offered discounts to clients referred by the firms. The owners of Xtreme rewarded jail inmates for referring clients to them. The charges list 39 “overt acts,” including recommendations by the bail bondsmen that criminal defendants hire Cavallo, promises of reduced fees, and in one instance, representations that a defendant would receive probation instead of jail time if he hired Cavallo. The bail bondsmen sometimes drove people to Cavallo’s office.

According to the State Bar charges, Cavallo paid between $300 and $500 each for 10 to 20 referrals from Xtreme Bail Bonds over a 26-month period. He allowed the owners of Xtreme to display his business cards in their office and offered discounts to clients referred by the firms. The owners of Xtreme rewarded jail inmates for referring clients to them. The charges list 39 “overt acts,” including recommendations by the bail bondsmen that criminal defendants hire Cavallo, promises of reduced fees, and in one instance, representations that a defendant would receive probation instead of jail time if he hired Cavallo. The bail bondsmen sometimes drove people to Cavallo’s office.

Two owners of Xtreme, Jorge Andres Castro and Alejandro de Jesus Cruz, were charged with the same crimes.

Platel explained in his decision that the long-standing prohibition against capping and improper partnership and fee divisions between lawyers and non-lawyers are based on the potential for such activities to adversely affect an attorney’s independent judgment.

Prosecutors said it is illegal for bail bond workers to recommend an attorney to their clients, even if no money changes hands, and it is illegal for attorneys to pay nonlawyers for client referrals.

Cavallo gained attention for defending Gregory Haidl, son of former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl, in two sensational trials. Gregory Haidl and two of his friends were sentenced in 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. The assault occurred in 2002, and the men were teenagers at the time.

The men were tried together, and their first trial ended in a hung jury. They were convicted in a second trial in 2005.

Prior to the Haidl case, Cavallo had never tried a high-profile case and was virtually unknown, Platel wrote in his decision. Cavallo stated that he was “completely consumed” by the Haidl trials at the time of his misconduct.

Cavallo argued that his crimes did not involve moral turpitude and that any suspension should not exceed one year. The bar sought his disbarment. Platel gave some mitigating weight to Cavallo’s physical and emotional health difficulties and to his pro bono activities and cooperation with the bar’s investigation. It rejected his effort to consider the negative publicity he received during his criminal proceeding as mitigation.

Cavallo also was disciplined with a private reproval in 1997 for engaging in false or deceptive advertising and for using impersonations and dramatizations in his advertising without proper disclosure.

>Two owners of Xtreme, Jorge Andres Castro and Alejandro de Jesus Cruz, were charged with the same crimes.

Platel explained in his decision that the long-standing prohibition against capping and improper partnership and fee divisions between lawyers and non-lawyers are based on the potential for such activities to adversely affect an attorney’s independent judgment.

Prosecutors said it is illegal for bail bond workers to recommend an attorney to their clients, even if no money changes hands, and it is illegal for attorneys to pay nonlawyers for client referrals.

Cavallo gained attention for defending Gregory Haidl, son of former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl, in two sensational trials. Gregory Haidl and two of his friends were sentenced in 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. The assault occurred in 2002, and the men were teenagers at the time.

The men were tried together, and their first trial ended in a hung jury. They were convicted in a second trial in 2005.

Prior to the Haidl case, Cavallo had never tried a high-profile case and was virtually unknown, Platel wrote in his decision. Cavallo stated that he was “completely consumed” by the Haidl trials at the time of his misconduct.

Cavallo argued that his crimes did not involve moral turpitude and that any suspension should not exceed one year. The bar sought his disbarment. Platel gave some mitigating weight to Cavallo’s physical and emotional health difficulties and to his pro bono activities and cooperation with the bar’s investigation. It rejected his effort to consider the negative publicity he received during his criminal proceeding as mitigation.

Cavallo also was disciplined with a private reproval in 1997 for engaging in false or deceptive advertising and for using impersonations and dramatizations in his advertising without proper disclosure.

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