The Tao of Steve

Striking a zen balance between defense tactics and billable hours

Although last week gave us an abbreviated round of Gold Club trial testimony, it did offer one substantive item of note: the first entry into official evidence of the phrase "doing it doggie-style in the back of a limo." We suspect we'll be hearing more of that one in coming weeks.

Serious trial enthusiasts were also treated to the first — and disappointingly belated — appearance of a bona fide babe on the witness stand since The People vs. Sleaze-R-Us cranked up some eight weeks ago. Tall and willowy, with a mane of chestnut hair, Rebecca Haddix, a former "Gold Bucks girl" whose job was to sell and cash out the house-issued scrip used to buy VIP favors, ironically had a leg up on the women we've seen so far whose jobs involved actually taking off their clothes.

One's mind tends to meander around such observations while being bludgeoned by yet another stupefyingly tedious cross-examination by lead defense attorney Steve Sadow, who represents Gold Club owner and alleged friend of the Family Steve Kaplan.

Sadow's favorite courtroom tactic consists of reading witnesses' grand jury testimony back to them line-by-line, prefaced by, "You said, did you not ..." and ending each long-winded quotation with, "Right?" In Congress, this is known as a filibuster. In jurisprudence, this is known as racking up the billable hours with a client who owns pricey spreads in Oyster Bay, Dunwoody and Boca Raton (or simply "Boca" in stripper-speak) and is reputedly familiar with how many Franklins can be stuffed inside a mail sack.

Kaplan may avoid prison, but he could suffer a sticker-shock coronary when this is all over.

If Judge Willis Hunt is forced to adjourn court so jurors can spend Easter with their families, it should come as no surprise to trial observers who've watched entire mornings slip away as Sadow repeats irrelevant questions ad infinitum, confronts witnesses over unimportant inconsistencies and spends many high-priced minutes establishing pointless time lines.

Perhaps it's all a brilliant strategy to achieve jury box attrition — one frail, elderly juror has already been dismissed for health reasons — but it would appear to violate Rule of Thumb No. 1 of courtroom survival: Don't piss off the judge.

Possessing a near-saintly patience for circuitous questioning and lawyerly digressions, the laconic Hunt finally let his frustration show on Friday, urging Sadow to get to the point and labeling his cross-examination technique as "considerably repetitious." Coming from a federal judge given to Milton Friedman-esque understatement, this warning should be considered by a careful attorney as the equivalent of an air-raid siren just after Ramadan.

Still, Sadow's aggressive style has the proven ability to reduce dancers to tears and provides the occasional unintentionally amusing exchange. For example, as he tried to show that Haddix and her boyfriend, former Gold Club valet contractor Tony Butina, had improperly collaborated on their testimony:

Sadow: You knew that Tony had witnessed the girls being paid after the Charleston trip?

Haddix: I know now.

Sadow (excited): Aha! Who told you?

Haddix: You just did.

Sadow: Oh.

Hey, after a long day of listening to page after mind-numbing page of earlier testimony being rehashed ("I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?"), this qualifies as a goddamn laugh riot, almost as enjoyable as the moment when defendant Jacklyn "Diva" Bush's cell phone went off and played the appropriately selected tune "The Entertainer."

Not that we weren't treated last week to a few morsels of the depravity and celebrity hijinks we've come to expect from the never-ending trial. We learned that freak-at-large Dennis Rodman expresses genuine admiration for anyone in a position to score him free sex. That the Gold Club management thoughtfully refunded that night's house fee to any stripper who showed up for work too drunk to dance. And that the scowling Steve Kaplan may have a sense of humor, after all; in the interest of diversification, he opened a franchise in New York's Penn Station: a Smoothie King stand. ("I'll take the Lemon Hummer, please.")

And then there's the soon-to-be-notorious Charleston trip, in which Butina said he drove club manager Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano and six dancers in a limo from Atlanta to the South Carolina port city in 1997 to rendezvous with the New York Knicks, who were sequestered there in an apparently misnamed "secret training camp."

Butina testified that he and Ziggy dropped the girls off at a hotel, swung across town to pick up a handful of Knicks and a pack of Trojans and brought them back for a suite party. Among the players were Larry Johnson, John Starks (now a Utah Jazz member) and a couple of rookies he didn't recognize, said Butina, who added he felt uncomfortable being involved in the incident.

Ziggy took the girls to an adjoining bedroom for a few minutes as the Knicks watched the rival playoff game on TV, then threw open the French doors to reveal the main event, said Butina, who appeared downright sheepish as he described the image to jurors: "The girls were all stripped down naked and they were engaged in lesbian acts together."

Needless to say, the players caught the game result later on Sports Center. There was no mention of the girls joking afterwards about anyone being a "small forward."??