OC Sheriffs investigate courthouse brawl between attorney and investigator

- An argument between an attorney and a prosecution investigator escalated into a brawl in a Santa Ana courthouse hallway Wednesday, but there were no arrests and no serious injuries.

The fight broke out about 10:30 a.m. on the 10th floor of the Central Justice Center, 700 W. Civic Center Drive, according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The combatants were a District Attorney's Office investigator and a court-appointed attorney, Braun said. The pair was first engaged in an argument before the disagreement grew into a fight.

Sheriff's deputies and Santa Ana police officers who were on scene waiting to testify in unrelated cases moved in and separated the pair. No arrests were made, and neither combatant was seriously injured, Braun said.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office issued a statement saying it was cooperating with the sheriff's department investigation, the results of which will be forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office.

Defense attorney James Crawford said the District Attorney's Office investigator attacked him. "I was assaulted," Crawford told City News Service. "He came up behind me, slammed my head on a bench and proceeded to punch me numerous times in the head."

Crawford was appointed to represent a witness in an upcoming trial, who was weighing whether to accept an offer from prosecutors to testify under immunity. He said he was advising the witness of her rights when the
investigator interrupted them.

"I was simply trying to advise the witness and he kept interfering, saying all defense attorneys are sleazy," Crawford said.

Crawford retorted with criticism that the District Attorney's Office has violated the rights of defendants in the use of jailhouse informants. Crawford recently won a new trial for a client, Henry Rodriguez, in a murder
case made against the defendant based on testimony from an informant.

An Orange County Superior Court judge sided with Crawford that his client's constitutional rights were violated because information about the snitch was not turned over to the defense attorney as required by law.

"I told him (the informants) were illegally used to win convictions and he didn't like that and went berserk," Crawford said.

Crawford referred further questions to his attorney, Jerry Steering, who said the investigator was protective of the witness. The investigator asked Crawford, "Who the hell are you?" That prompted Crawford to reply he "was appointed by the court to advise this lady about her rights."

The investigator "scoffed" and "moved aside," Steering said. The "sleazy" accusation sparked the argument, Steering said. "Mr. Crawford was walking away when this very mature police officer called him a douche bag," Steering said. "So he retorted, `Well (expletive) you.' "

The investigator then allegedly picked up a "heavy paper clip" and "whipped" it at Crawford, Steering said.

When Crawford "whipped it back at him," the investigator "grabs Mr. Crawford's head and smashed his head into the bench."

The investigator then punched Crawford "repeatedly" until the deputies and officers pulled him off of the defense attorney, Steering said. Crawford sustained two black eyes and his left eye was swollen shut this evening, Steering said.

After the brawl, "there was blood everywhere," Steering said. Crawford knows better than to start a fight, Steering said. "C'mon, the guy is a criminal lawyer for 20 something years in the same courthouse and he's going to start a fight with anybody?" Steering said.

"Maybe the guy's girlfriend dumped him. I don't know. Maybe he lost at the track the night before."

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