All eyes were on Vincent Cardinalli Sr. as the man representing
himself against scores of tow scam-related felonies fumbled through
two hours of disjointed cross-examination. The judge, a witness,
the prosecutor and lawyers for his fellow defendants often
interrupted Cardinalli to point out procedural mistakes or problems
with his questions, which one witness described as
All eyes were on Vincent Cardinalli Sr. as the man representing himself against scores of tow scam-related felonies fumbled through two hours of disjointed cross-examination. The judge, a witness, the prosecutor and lawyers for his fellow defendants often interrupted Cardinalli to point out procedural mistakes or problems with his questions, which one witness described as “nonsense.”
Cardinalli, 66, and his family – son Paul Greer, formerly Vincent Cardinalli Jr., daughter Rosemary Ball and son-in-law Michael Ball – again crowded with their attorneys around the defense table in the wood-paneled courtroom, the audience benches empty, for a second day of what is expected to be a four- to six-week preliminary hearing. Wearing jeans, sneakers and untucked shirts, Greer’s and Michael Ball’s unkempt appearances stood in sharp contrast to the dark suits worn by their attorneys and Deputy District Attorney Dale Lohman.
Cardinalli, who is the only defendant without an attorney – he scrapped his lawyer last year to take up the effort himself – wore an orange jumpsuit from the Santa Clara County Main Jail, where he is currently being held, and walked with the help of a cane. Black headphones covered his ears, the strip of the headpiece blending in with the jet black strands of his comb-over. A long gray beard hid the lower half of his face.
The family stands accused of 169 felony counts of perjury, conspiracy, forgery and attempted grand theft, among others, stemming from more than 2,000 small claims lawsuits Cardinalli and Greer allegedly filed in San Benito and Santa Clara counties, parlaying the defendants’ towing businesses into a gold mine, according to an investigation conducted by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. The family sued unwitting people for towing, storage and lien sale fees on vehicles they never owned, or had sold years before the cars were towed, according to court documents. When defendants tried to fight back, father and son often zeroed in on technicalities and advanced frivolous arguments to slam vehicle owners with fees and lawsuits, testified Greg Adler, an attorney for Copart, an auto auction company that was a target of such lawsuits.
On Monday, the prosecution spent hours interviewing Adler in a well-choreographed question and answer session about the alleged tow and sue scam Cardinalli and Greer ran. Adler, who wore a dark suit and gold tie, answered Lohman’s questions, providing examples and background about the case. However, Tuesday’s proceedings were much less smooth.
The cross-examination of Adler was stalled by Cardinalli’s long pauses, some which went on for minutes at a time as he paged through a stack of documents, the papers rustling loudly into his microphone.
“What’s the question?” Superior Court Judge Gilbert Brown prompted Cardinalli during one long pause. “If you have something pertinent, let’s get moving on it.”
Lohman objected to about a dozen of Cardinalli’s questions on the grounds that they were vague. But the only time she addressed Cardinalli directly was after he attempted to enter a document into evidence that he claimed was the complete case file of one of the victims.
“Those are not what you represented them to be, I’ll tell you that right now,” Lohman said to Cardinalli.
To Brown, Lohman explained that the evidence Cardinalli entered contained documents with Cardinalli’s handwriting on them and other documents that were not part of the certified court file.
At one point during Cardinalli’s questioning, Tom Orvis, Michael Ball’s attorney, objected on the grounds that “the attorney” – Cardinalli – was testifying rather than asking questions of Adler.
“He’s not an attorney but I’ll sustain that objection,” Brown said, letting Cardinalli know that if he wanted to testify, he would have to take the witness stand and be subject to cross-examination.
Each time Cardinalli asked to enter a document as evidence, he handed the exhibit to a young deputy who maneuvered around the defendants and stacks of court documents to deliver it to Adler.
Unlike the civil back-and-forth he traded with Lohman Monday, Adler responded with terse, often monosyllabic answers to Cardinalli’s disjointed and many times vague questions. Several times he corrected Cardinalli’s phrasing of a question or answered before Cardinalli was done speaking.
When Cardinalli asked Brown if he could reserve the right to recall Adler as a witness for further questioning, Ric Squaglia, Rosemary Ball’s attorney, leaned over to whisper in Cardinalli’s ear, advising Cardinalli to explain to the judge why his reasons for wanting to recall Adler were relevant.
“How is that relevant?” Squaglia prompted Cardinalli.
Instead of answering that question and expanding on why he wanted to recall Adler, Cardinalli mistakenly repeated Squaglia’s advice to the judge.
“How is that relevant?” Cardinalli asked Brown.
“See Mr. Cardinalli, that’s why most people have attorneys,” Brown said before moving on.
Cardinalli then explained that he wanted to recall Adler because he wanted to know if Adler tampered with the court files.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Brown asked.
Turning to Adler, Cardinalli barely managed to complete the question before Adler pulled his microphone close, leaned down and replied “No.”
With a small smile, Brown asked Adler to allow Cardinalli to finish the question before responding.
Cardinalli told the court that he believed he would be able to impeach Adler as a witness after the cross-examination of other witnesses.
“His questions are all nonsense,” Adler said outside the courtroom after Brown allowed Cardinalli to recall Adler at a later point if Cardinalli could come up with a good reason. “I can tell where he’s trying to go with them. He’s out of his league.”