Joseph Cavallo, left, with attorney John Barnett during his arraignment in Los Angeles.
Joseph Cavallo, left, with attorney John Barnett during his arraignment in Los Angeles. (Photo: Irfan Khan/EPA/Pool via Newscom)

A prominent personal injury attorney in Orange County, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to extort a Saudi sheik by falsely accusing his son of sexually assaulting and torturing his client.

Joseph Cavallo, a solo practitioner in Irvine, Calif., entered his plea on Tuesday. He faces charges of extortion, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. His attorney, John Barnett of Barnett & Barnett in Orange, Calif., did not return a call for comment.

Another attorney, Emanuel Hudson, who faces the same charges, is due in court on July 31. Hudson of Hudson & Associates in Irvine, and his attorney, Harland Braun of the Law Offices of Harland W. Braun in Los Angeles, declined to comment.

Both attorneys face up to four years in prison. They represented Leyla Ors, who, according to prosecutors in the Los Angeles County, Calif., district attorney’s office, told police on March 11 that she had been raped and tortured by Thamer Albalwi, 23, the son of one of the wealthiest men in Saudi Arabia, Sheik Mansur Albalwi. The younger Albalwi was charged with sexual assault.

But on June 30, Hudson told the elder Albalwi that Ors wouldn’t testify against his son and “the case would be over” if he paid $15 million, according to prosecutors. In a call later that day, Cavallo allegedly upped the demand to $20 million and told the sheik that Hudson would set up an account in Switzerland to receive the money.

A Los Angeles judge dismissed the sexual assault case on Friday.

Ors, a German national, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. She faces the same charges as her attorneys, plus an additional bribery count.

In 2007, the State Bar of California declared Cavallo temporarily ineligible to practice law after he pleaded guilty to three felony counts of paying bail bondsmen to steer clients his way between 2003 and 2005. He was sentenced to six months of house arrest and paid more than $18,000 in fines.

Cavallo represented the son of Don Haidl, a former assistant sheriff in Orange County, Calif., in a gang-rape trial. He obtained a hung jury for Haidl’s son, who was convicted in a second trial in 2005. Cavallo and Haidl later testified in a bribery trial against Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, once dubbed by late night host Larry King as “America’s Sheriff.” Carona is serving 5 1/2 years in federal prison following his conviction on one count of witness tampering—specifically, attempting to influence Haidl’s grand jury testimony.

In 2009, the state bar, noting that the bar had previously disciplined Cavallo more than a decade earlier for making misleading advertisements, suspended his license for three years. The bar, crediting his two years of ineligibility, lifted the suspension the following year. Bar officials noted at the time that Cavallo appeared ashamed and humiliated by his crimes. “He feels he has learned a very painful and significant lesson in morality and ethics,” they wrote.

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