Tony Capozzola's law office is filled with awards, trophies and photos of him with various big shots, including Gov. Jerry Brown, a longtime friend, who invited Capozzola to his wedding. But if you look closely, beyond all the glorious camaraderie and legal triumphs, you'll see a small glass case enclosing a square piece of drywall with a bullet hole in the middle of it.
Capozzola is a South Bay legal legend for a lot of good reasons – he's won his last 17 jury trials, he has enduring friendships with L.A.'s rich and famous in sports, politics and showbiz, and he has an unwavering passion for the underdog. A few years ago he received the ultimate confirmation of his local-celebrity status: Eat at Joe's Diner in Redondo Beach added to its menu a Tony Capozzola omelet – spicy Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, onions and peppers.
But he's also legendary for one very bad reason: In 2003 he survived a murder-suicide in his office, an infamous incident dramatized last summer in the A&E reality show I Killed My BFF.
“The show's name sounded so cheesy, I almost didn't cooperate with their production crew,” he says with a guttural laugh.
It started when Beverly Hills attorney Gerald Scotti, visiting Capozzola's office for a dispute-resolution conference, shot and killed his own paralegal – and best friend – Barry Feldman, then pointed the gun directly at Capozzola's head.
“It was a very spiritual moment,” Capozzola recalls. “I stared straight back at him for five seconds.”
Finally, Scotti raised the gun and shot himself in the head. Capozzola called the police, who found notes in Scotti's car indicating he had carefully planned the murder-suicide – and that he'd also planned to kill Capozzola, who was a friend of both men and was trying to work out a resolution of their financial dispute.
“The police were mystified that he failed to follow through on that part,” he says. “I guess it wasn't my time to die yet.”
Capozzola, 69, keeps the encased bullet hole in his Rolling Hills Estates office as a reminder of the evils of gambling addiction: Feldman had embezzled $75,000 from Scotti to pay his gambling debts.
“It was a terrible situation caused by one man's gambling addiction and another guy slowly going insane,” Capozzola says.
A classic tender-tough guy who hides his soft heart beneath a gruff, get-to-the-point demeanor, Capozzola has been dealing with terrible situations for more than 35 years. The Colorado native moved to L.A. after a stint in the Marines, and started out as a juvenile gang probation officer working in Watts while attending law school at the University of West Los Angeles at night.
He spent five years as a deputy district attorney before switching sides, subsequently representing everyone from football stars Lance Rentzel and Mervin Fernandez to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and Patrick Lynch, former general manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Now he's using his vast network of sports contacts to transition his criminal defense practice to corporate law. His first major client is a high-tech company called DeskSite, which has partnered with the National Football League to provide highlight videos of NFL action and interviews.
“Sports have always been a significant part of my life,” Capozzola says. “Now I've decided to put it first and foremost.”