Video: Assault victim suit

updated 3/21/2006 4:25:15 PM ET 2006-03-21T21:25:15

A 16-year-old girl said she was raped by three classmates.  One of the boys was the son of a wealthy assistant sheriff.  There was even a videotape showing the alleged assault as the girl lay unconscious on a pool table.  The boys were seen penetrating her with objects including a pool cue, a bottle, even a lit cigarette. 

Defense attorneys pointed to inconsistencies in the girl’s testimony and said she was an aspiring porn star who consented to the sex.  Friends of the victim told a private investigator she was promiscuous and would have agreed to the sex acts.  The first trial ended in a deadlock with jurors leaning towards acquittal.

A second jury convicted the boys of sexual assault, but not rape and they were sentenced to six years in prison.  Almost four years later, the alleged victim is going after the three boys and the parents of one of them in a civil suit, but she’s also naming one of the boy’s attorneys and two defense investigators in her lawsuit.  She says they crossed the line.  They subjected her to years of harassment and intimidation. 

Dan Abrams was joined by attorney Joseph Cavallo, who is named in the suit and represented one of the boys in the rape trial, and attorney Gloria Allred to discuss the case.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, "ABRAMS REPORT": Mr. Cavallo, basically the essence of the lawsuit is that you went too far.  You allegedly stalked and followed her, trespassed on her property, went through her trash, divulged private information about her to students at school, improperly obtained confidential medical records, hid evidence of the sexual assault, tried to intimidate her, defamed her by spreading lies or other untruths.  Your response.

JOSEPH CAVALLO, SUED BY ALLEGED RAPE VICTIM FOR HARASSMENT:  Well first of all, all that is incorrect and it’s not true.  What we did was we aggressively defended Gregory Haidl as well as the other two boys. What we actually did was send investigators out to subpoena Jane Doe and subpoena her family.  They refused to accept subpoenas, therefore we had to hang around the property to hand subpoenas to these individuals.

We never went to any school and let anybody know that Jane Doe was this other person.  Everybody knew who Jane Doe was.  She wanted everybody to know who she was.  She loved the attention.  In fact, there were times when she was receiving pets—stuffed pets—stuffed animals and toys as a result of her being quote-unquote “the alleged victim in this case”, and enjoyed the receipt of those items.

We have evidence to prove that as well.  She’s just a little bit disgusted that she couldn’t hide her actions after this event took place, which was consistent with her actions before this event took place.  This is an attack on the criminal justice system.  How far can a criminal defense lawyer go?

ABRAMS:  I don’t know the facts well enough to know whether you’re right or she’s right, but I can tell that if a criminal defense lawyer makes comments outside a court or does things outside a court, they can be held accountable like anybody else. 

CAVALLO:  Well we’re not talking about comments anyway and I disagree with you on that note, but there were no...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  What do you disagree with me about, that a criminal defense attorney can’t be held responsible for the things they do or say outside a court?

CAVALLO:  Absolutely not.  There’s an immunity level that attaches as well outside the courtroom, but it’s not the words that they’re talking about.  This is actions by investigators trying to discover information about Jane Doe, her family to help in the defense of these three boys.  That’s simply all it was.  It wasn’t anything else.  We can’t help that we discovered information about Jane Doe in the process of that investigation that disturbed her, her family and her lawyer.

ABRAMS:  But you can control what you do and you say, et cetera, with that information.

CAVALLO:  Do you control yourself when you’re defending somebody’s life?  We’re looking at 192 years for three teenage boys for a 20-minute interlude.

ABRAMS:  You’re not suggesting no matter what the facts are, right, that it’s a criminal defense attorney’s obligation to go to whatever lengths to discredit the accuser.

CAVALLO:  Whatever lengths within the law.  That’s what I’m telling you and that’s exactly what we did.

ABRAMS:  So there’s no moral compass at all...

CAVALLO:  Where’s the moral compass?  The moral compass here is truth.  That’s the limitation because the prosecutor says it’s—the prosecutor charges a certain offense, does that mean it’s true? 

ABRAMS:  If I’m wrong, I think the jury found them guilty, right, of sexual assault?

CAVALLO:  Sexual assault, but not rape and in the first trial let me remind you that the jurors found...

ABRAMS:  You said it’s an attack on the justice system and now you’re citing the first trial was a hung jury.

CAVALLO:  Well it was a hung jury, 9-3 for not guilty an 11-1 for not guilty and the second trial, they couldn’t get rape convictions. 

And you know why?  Let me tell you why, because none of the jurors in either trial believed Jane Doe.  They didn’t believe a word she said. 

ABRAMS:  Gloria Allred, look, again, I don’t know the facts of this case well enough to be able to make a judgment, but I can tell you that I get disturbed by this notion that criminal defense attorneys can say whatever they want at anyone’s expense simply because—and then they can say you know what, I’m just defending my client. 

GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIM’S RIGHTS ATTORNEY:  Well I think you make a good point, Dan, and there is something called a litigation privilege and in fact, just within the last month, the California Supreme Court has handed down a case talking about it, but without getting into the technicalities of it, there are limits on what an attorney can say and do.  And for example, an attorney can’t break the law.  An attorney can’t trespass. 

An attorney can’t defame.  This is not to say that this particular attorney has done any of that.  We’ll have to see what the facts are but there are limits. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you Mr. Cavallo, one of your investigators apparently called her a “whore”, is that true? 

CAVALLO:  That’s not true.  That’s not true.

ABRAMS:  That was one of the allegations though, right, that he referred to her in that way outside of court?

CAVALLO:  That’s not accurate- at least that I’m aware of.  I’m not aware of any of my investigators that I utilized in that case calling Jane Doe a whore, a slut, or any of the kind.

ABRAMS:  Do you accept responsibility for everything your investigators do? 

CAVALLO:  Only with what—only with regard to the direction that they took from me. 

ABRAMS:  Jane Doe said on the witness stand during the case.  "All that I was and the woman I was becoming was savagely thrown away by three men.  Three men that brutally assaulted me, not only with their bodies, but with foreign objects also."

Mr. Cavallo, so you will not comment on the videotape at all, because as you know, that was the strongest piece of evidence against your clients, right? 

CAVALLO:  Well, you know, as far as the two criminal trials are concerned.  Let me just say this, the—my heart does go out to Jane Doe and the three boys.  This was a very, very unfortunate set of circumstances.  There were four teenagers involved in this, it was a 20-minute incident that really ended up in a very, very bad situation for all concerned.  There were a lot of people hurt by this. 

You know my office represents civil cases as well.  We represent many, many victims and many different types of cases and have recovered millions of dollars for victims.  This is one of those cases that we just would not have taken, knowing the background of Jane Doe, knowing that the circumstances surrounding that evening, and knowing her subsequent conduct, this is just not one of those cases that should be the type of case that could end up resulting in the collapse of a criminal justice system. 

If you start attacking criminal lawyers for aggressively defending their clients, you’re going to have lawyers in their own mind, it’s going to be sort of a situation where lawyers are going to second guess what they do and you can’t do that when you’re defending somebody charged with a crime.

ALLRED:  Dan, there are limits.  You know, again, what if a lawyer decides to go out and murder someone because they think that that person would be a terrible witness against their own client? 

This is not this lawyer.  But I’m saying there are limits.

ABRAMS:  I don’t want to talk about a lawyer murdering someone.  You know, my problem is that I feel that criminal defense attorneys believe in most of these cases, or in many cases, that as part of their defense, they are—they’ve got carte blanche to say whatever they want publicly and they can say, hey, hey look I was just defending my client, no matter what effect it has. 

CAVALLO:  But I don’t know if that’s true.  I can’t agree with that.  There are limitations and some of those limitations have to be based on your own constitution and what you feel is right.  And that’s—whether that’s—so long as it’s within the confines of the law, then your limitation becomes your morals.  If you’re going outside of the confines of the law, then you’re—certainly the law itself is a limitation. 

In this case, nobody went outside of the confines of the law, and this just ended up simply being a victim and family and prosecutorial team that was just vehemently opposed to a zealous and aggressive defense.  That’s what it ended up being. She was used as a puppet by the prosecution and unfortunately she’s being used as a puppet by her own lawyer right now.

ALLRED:  The jury convicted your client.  Doesn’t that matter to you? 

CAVALLO:  Yes.  Well it does.  He was convicted of sexual assault and not rape.

But I would have to say—Gloria, I would think you would be concerned about this issue as well because from what I understand I have the highest regard and respect for you and I compliment your work.  We do the same sort of work. 

However, you certainly have to be concerned about Mr. Lodmer’s approach in this case because even you are subject to the sort of lawsuit that I’m being involved in right now by Mr. Lodmer.  You have to be, you’re an aggressive lawyer.  Any aggressive lawyer, in fact, any lawyer—do we now sue doctors because they tried too hard to save a life?

ABRAMS:  Mr. Cavallo, you get the final word on that.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  Gloria Allred, thank you. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,