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Friday, January 12, 2024


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Unlike Dish That Contains His Surname, He’s No Part ‘Chicken’; He Speaks Out, Facilely Stating His Position


By Sherri Okamoto


There are hundreds of ways to make a chicken cacciatore, but the basic ingredients—aside from chicken—are onions, herbs, tomatoes and sometimes mushrooms. A quick perusal of the State Bar website shows there are thousands of attorneys in California, but there’s only one Tom Cacciatore. His basic ingredients are humor mixed with a bit of ham, humility, and a healthy dose of good luck.

Cacciatore grew up in Alhambra, where “every fifth kid in my grade school class was Italian,” he says.

The family’s Italian identity was “always a part of my upbringing” he recalls. All four of his grandparents were from Sicily and his parents, Angelo and Angela Cacciatore, helped build Casa Italiana—the cultural center for the community. So, participation in the community was natural.

Growing up, Cacciatore says his older sister, Ginger, was “a great influence” as well. She was “very funny,” and “very talented” at dancing and singing. She loved show tunes, ’50s R&B, be-bop and jazz, and “my parents thought we were crazy…they couldn’t understand why we would listen to some of that stuff.”

Cacciatore played the trumpet, and he can sing. He was invited to be a member of the Pasadena Boys Choir and sang throughout Southern California and with the San Francisco Opera Company in La Traviata, La Bohème and Cavalieri Rusticana.


Depicted are Cacciatore’s daughter Alexandra, wife Lyn, son Andrew and Cacciatore riding on Angels Flight, in Downtown Los Angeles.

Having been an average student throughout high school, Cacciatore applied to several colleges that were looking at candidates with far higher grade-point-averages. He jokes that the rejections from Harvard, Yale and Stanford helped him decide to head to Pasadena City College.

College was “an epiphany,” Cacciatore recalls. While he “didn’t set the world on fire,” he “learned to study and write” and “developed a love of learning.”

Cacciatore later transferred to California State University, Los Angeles, which was close enough to Alhambra that he could ride his Vespa to classes.

He declared English as his major, because he loved Shakespeare, poetry, and the avant garde beatnik literature of the day. It was “enjoyable material, and unlike science and accounting, where you have to be exactly right about things,” Cacciatore says.

After graduation, Cacciatore worked a year in advertising and sales. His good friend Larry Freeman was attending Loyola Law School and encouraged him to apply, so Cacciatore gave it a shot.

“Luckily I made the cut,” he says.

His first day in law school was another epiphany. “I realized this was the right place for me.” Law school was something new but “it just fit with my mindset and it made sense.”

Backing of Candidate

While waiting for his bar exam results, Cacciatore worked on Vincent T. Bugliosi Jr.’s 1972 campaign to become Los Angeles County district attorney.

“Vince was a live wire, a very dynamic guy” Cacciatore contends. At the time, Bugliosi, a deputy district attorney, had just successfully prosecuted the Charles Manson murder cases and “he was a hero,” nationally, as Cacciatore remembers it.

During the campaign, Bugliosi was unable occasionally to make an event and Cacciatore would fill in, delivering the campaign speech to clubs and union halls.

His hope had been to land a position with the D.A.’s Office if Bugliosi won the race, but Bugliosi narrowly lost to Joseph P. Busch, the appointed incumbent. That left Cacciatore looking for a job where he could use his new law license.

Met Future Wife

On a positive note, during the campaign he met his future wife, Lyn Beckett, who was working for the Busch campaign.

The couple married in 1975 and have two children. Lyn Cacciatore is a 1979 graduate of Loyola Law School and was a deputy city attorney in Santa Monica for 30 years. Their son, Andrew, is a certified public accountant for Loyola Marymount University. Their daughter, Alexandra, another Loyola Law alumna, is a deputy Los Angeles city attorney.

Cacciatore landed a position at the Travelers Insurance company’s law office after the election.


Lyn and Thomas Cacciatore pose for a photo along Highway 1, while returning from a trip to Monterey.

As new attorneys, Cacciatore says, most of his friends from law school were bemoaning the fact that they were unlikely to get to conduct a trial for years to come. His expectation was that he was in for the same fate, but just as he started, a senior attorney left the firm and Cacciatore suddenly was assigned his entire list of active cases. He reported for work on a Monday morning and was told to be in trial on Wednesday. Cacciatore says he was shocked and tongue-tied like “Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners, ‘Hama-hama-hama’.” When he asked his boss for advice, he was told to talk to some of his new colleagues, then his boss left for lunch.

The advice Cacciatore recalls getting from his colleagues was to stand on the other end of the table from the plaintiff’s lawyer, and to try to think of a “brilliant” objection any time the plaintiff’s lawyer said anything. He was also warned, this case was a loser.

Lost First Case

Cacciatore remembers Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Lawrence Drumm presided over the trial, and he was “very nice, very cordial,” which “I appreciated very much.” But, “sure as hell, I lost.”

The next day, Cacciatore went to the office and his boss told him he had a jury trial in two weeks. Then, again, the man went to lunch. “He was good at going to lunch,” Cacciatore quips.

Cacciatore says he was once again in shock, as he “didn’t know anything” about jury trials, and his client hardly painted a sympathetic picture showing up in court sporting a sleeveless denim vest, a chain wallet, and an assortment of jailhouse tattoos, which were rarely seen in those days. The plaintiffs were two scrap metal collectors, and Cacciatore’s client had crashed into their truck, wrecking it and causing them injuries.

“They were nice guys, and quite frankly, I believed them,” Cacciatore says, “but I put on the best case I could.”

The plaintiffs prevailed, although Cacciatore says he was “able to keep the damages fairly reasonable,” and the experience convinced him: “I like this, and can do this.”

Cacciatore says being a trial lawyer “brought out my dramatis personae” and he would “sometimes ham it up” for the jury.

In the next 18 months, he had 15 trials, and most of them were jury trials. So “by the time I was like 27 or 28, I had more jury experience than some attorneys who had practiced 30 years,” Cacciatore says. “I was extremely lucky.”

Huge Verdict

Luck stayed with him after he went into practice on his own. Within two years of launching his solo practice, in 1974 Cacciatore obtained what was then the largest premises liability jury verdict in the history of Los Angeles County on behalf of an injured customer of McDonald’s.

Not long after this, Cacciatore began litigating the case of Bigbee v. Pacific Telephone Co. which lasted 11 years, generated three published opinions, culminating in a California Supreme Court decision which redefined foreseeability, duty and proximate cause—an opinion included in casebooks.

Cacciatore is responsible for bringing that case against the Automobile Club of Southern California based on the rape of a young woman who was told by the dispatcher to wait in what was a telephone booth in an unsafe area because otherwise a tow truck would not be called. That case and the publicity surrounding it forced the Auto Club to change its policy so that now, when motorists call for roadside assistance, the first question asked is whether the caller is in “a safe location.”

Most recently, Cacciatore and attorney Tim Sottile—son of retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bruce Sottile—ended a 16-year battle involving 1,300 acres of disputed property in Malibu, which was resolved for more than $20 million.

While maintaining his busy legal practice over the years, Cacciatore and his wife developed 32 homes in Redondo and Manhattan Beach, was on the board of the Hospice Foundation of Los Angeles, and was instrumental in qualifying a local corporation on the NASDAQ exchange. He has also been involved in various Italian American organizations in Los Angeles and was one of the first presidents of the Italian American Lawyers Association. He’s maintained a collection of vintage Jaguar cars, traveled the world, ran a successful bar and grill in Monterey, California, and caught many a fish as well.

Won’t Be Retiring

Looking to the future, Cacciatore says more travel is “on the agenda” but certainly not retirement. “I don’t think I will ever completely retire,” he says. “It’s still fun.”

Freeman, the friend who had encouraged Cacciatore to pursue law school, says he has known Cacciatore since high school. Recently retired from private practice, he says Cacciatore “has always been popular,” and even though he downplays his accomplishments, “he just wasn’t mediocre in any way” and “he’s succeeded in part, because he’s a good lawyer, and in part, because he’s quick.”

Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Phillip J. Argento has also been a long-time friend of Cacciatore. He says he remembers riding his bicycle around Alhambra with Cacciatore.


Cacciatore poses for a photo, taken by Larry Freeman, with their identical 1952 XK150 Jaguars.

Cacciatore “always had a great sense of style, for clothing and things like that,” Argento remembers. “He had a very cool bike,” which was “flashy” with “a lot of chrome.”  Cacciatore also had a “good sense of timing” in social situations, and at a sixth-grade hayride, Argento says, Cacciatore was holding the hand of the neighborhood girl Cacciatore had liked, so Argento took that as a cue to reach for the hand of the girl he liked.

“That was the first time I ever held hands with a girl,” Argento says.

Around this same time, Argento and Cacciatore became big fans of horror movies, watching Dracula and Frankenstein at Cacciatore’s house, since he had a color television. They also were both fans of Johnny Carson and loved sharing pop culture factoids. Argento says he was once called “a cornucopia of trivia,” and said that would apply to Cacciatore just as well.

Superb Writer

Argento points out that Cacciatore was a talented musician and singer as a child, then “really bloomed intellectually when he became a lawyer.” Cacciatore “writes really well,” and has a knack for telling the story of a case “without a bunch of legalese” in a way that anyone could easily understand, Argento says.

“He’s also got terrific people skills,” making connections with people and remembering things about them, Argento observes.

Argento says that if he throws a party and wants to make sure everyone has a good time, the key is inviting Cacciatore. “He’s fun, and he’s smart,” Argento comments, remarking:

“I mean, I’ve known this guy 73 years and I continue to enjoy his company immensely.”

Attorney Angela A. Zanin of Lewis Brisbois, president of the Italian American Lawyers Association, says “Tom hardly ever misses a general meeting or an IALA board meeting.” He has “been there supporting us for decades,” and he’s “kept the love of IALA going into the next generation,” with his daughter serving as the organization’s vice-president, Zanin says.

Cacciatore also has been spearheading the IALA Scholarship Committee, recruiting “quality candidates” and contributing financially, which has been “such a blessing,” Zanin adds.


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