Attorney beaten in Orange County Courthouse by D.A.’s Investigator

Orange County Criminal Law Appellate and Writ Lawyer James Crawford was brutally attacked in the Tenth Floor hallway of the Orange County Superior Court by an Orange County District Attorney’s Office Investigator, over Mr. Crawford’s verbal retort.

The Orange County informant scandal just got a lot nuttier

By Radley Balko March 11, 2016

If you haven’t been paying attention, Orange County, Calif., is in the midst of a massive scandal involving the district attorney’s office and the use of informants. DA Tony Rackauckas and his staff have been berated by judges (one of whom recused the entire office from a murder case), had convictions overturned and even let accused killers go free rather than disclose how they use informants. It’s a massive scandal and ought to be national news.Most of this mess was uncovered by OC Weekly reporter R. Scott Moxley and public defender Scott Sanders. But recently, another defense attorney, James Crawford, won a big victory over the DA’s office in a case related to the ongoing snitch scandal. Then, this happened:

James Crawford, a criminal defense lawyer who recently defeated the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) in a major case tied to the region’s ongoing jailhouse informant scandal, claims an OCDA employee assaulted him on a 10th floor courthouse hallway this morning.Crawford’s swollen face and bloody shirt resulted after one of DA Tony Rackauckas’ investigators “pummeled” him in the midst of a brief, terse exchange about who was more sleazy: defense lawyers exposing the systematic cheating involving jailhouse informants or prosecutors and police who’ve repeatedly violated constitutional rights and hidden evidence to win convictions.According to Irvine-based lawyer Jerry Steering, who is representing Crawford, the investigator, whose identity the Weekly is not publishing until it’s officially confirmed, grabbed his client, knocked him to the floor, jumped on him and then “punched him at least 10 times in the face” before officers in the courthouse pulled him away.“This guy socks him and knocks his socks off,” said Steering, who specializes in pursuing police corruption cases and plans to file a civil lawsuit.

You can see a photo of Crawford’s battered face here.Here’s more, from the Los Angeles Times:

James M. Crawford, Esq., shortly after his attack in the busy courthouse on March 9, 2016

Jerry Steering, a lawyer representing Crawford, said his client was in the courthouse to represent a woman who was subpoenaed to testify. The D.A.’s investigator was assigned to watch over the woman, he said.When Crawford approached his client, the investigator disparaged defense attorneys as “sleazy,” Steering said. Crawford replied that defense attorneys were no worse than the Orange County district attorney’s office, which has been mired in an ever-widening scandal over the use of testimony from inmate informants.As Crawford walked away, the investigator flicked a large paper clip at the lawyer, Steering said. Crawford then tossed the clip back toward the investigator.“The investigator then grabs [Crawford’s] head and slams it into the bench and then punches him like 10 times in the face and head,” Steering said, adding that sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Santa Ana Police Department had to remove the investigator.

Incredibly, not only has the investigator who pummeled Crawford bloody not been criminally charged, we don’t even know his name. Rackauckas won’t release it. Here’s a statement from his office.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) has received inquiries about an OCDA Investigator’s employment status in regards to the courthouse incident yesterday, March 9, 2016. The California Employment Law and The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights require that the OCDA have all the pertinent information into a matter under review before any HR action is taken. The OCDA is waiting on that information, which we anticipate will take several days, in order to make an appropriate personnel decision.No further information will be disclosed at this time.

There you have it. The “privacy” of cops and state employees means we don’t get to know the identity of a DA investigator who smashed a defense attorney’s head into a bench, then punched him up to 10 times (allegedly!). For more, er, pointed commentary on this incident, see defense attorneysScott Greenfield and Rick Horowitz.Interestingly enough, this morning I received an email press release from theAssociation for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, a police union. It seems that California state Sen. Mark Leno has introduced a bill in the California legislature that would revise the current law to make personnel records of police officers public record. The police union, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, is adamantly opposed to the legislation. This is actually the third press release I’ve received voicing opposition to the bill. Here’s an excerpt from one headlined, “Senator Leno to Police Officers ‘Privacy? You Don’t Need No Stinking Privacy!’

SB 1286 would change long-established and highly effective state law that has provided privacy for peace officers’ personnel files, restricting disclosure to criminal prosecutions where the peace officer is a witness and appropriate showings have been made to a Judge. Proponents want to dismantle this system, making unsubstantiated claims that to do so would improve transparency and accountability and enhance public trust of law enforcement.The ACLU and State Senator Mark Leno are pushing legislation that would greatly expand the exceptions that apply to investigations or proceedings conducted by civilian review agencies, inspectors general, personnel boards, police and civil service commissions, city councils, boards of supervisors and other agencies. It would make police officer personnel records and records relating to sustained complaints against them available to the public.“SB 1286 singles out peace officers in a prejudicial and discriminatory manner and sets a dangerous precedent for all public employees in California. The bill is unnecessary because existing law provides for accessing police personnel files in appropriate cases,- with safeguards in place that protect officers’ privacy. This bill would only serve to facilitate fishing expeditions by criminal defendants and their attorneys, devastate officer morale while eroding trust in law enforcement. State law protects all public employees by ensuring the disciplinary process is not a pubic spectacle,” said ALADS President George Hofstetter.

This is nonsense. It amounts to a “just trust us” policy of leaving police oversight to prosecutors and police agencies alone. There are countless examples in which media investigations or investigators working for defense attorneys or attorneys in civil litigation have uncovered past abuse, deficiencies in training and other problems never cited when that officer was cleared by a DA or internal affairs investigation.

The Orange County story illustrates the folly of these laws.* The investigator alleged to have beaten Crawford works for a DA who has already been reprimanded by a judge, whose office has been reported to have repeatedly lied about its use of informants, and who has widely been accused by defense attorneys of covering up gross misconduct by his staff. The same DA has refused to prosecute cops shown to have lied in these cases for perjury, likely because doing so would implicate people in his office. The incident in question appears to have been an altercation over this very scandal. As the DA, Rackauckas or his office would presumably be the party investigating the incident. We’re just supposed to trust that he’ll do a fair and thorough job? And if the investigation clears Rackauckas’s own employee, just as he has insisted there was no wrongdoing on the part of his staff in the informant scandal, the public could ostensibly never know the investigator’s name.There’s a good case to be made for keeping, say, police officers’ home addresses out of the public record. But names and disciplinary files? No way. Cops are entrusted with extraordinary power. They can arrest, detain, injure and kill. That sort of power is corruptive. It can only be delegated along with a healthy dose of transparency and accountability. That means that to assume those powers, you have to sacrifice some of your rights, at least while you’re on the job. The same goes for prosecutors, who don’t have the power to kill, but certainly have the power to ruin lives.

The scandal in Orange County is a disgrace in and of itself. But the outrage has only been compounded by the laws, case law, procedural rules and bureaucracy as well as special protections for copsinformants and prosecutors that have shielded the guilty parties from responsibility and the public from knowing the truth. These protections not only stand in the way of real accountability, but they also can confer an air of untouchability to the people who benefit from them. It’s the sort of arrogance that, for example, might lead a DA’s investigator to think he can beat a defense attorney bloody for daring to talk back to him.(*For the record, the head of the Orange County chapter of the deputy sheriff’s union suggested the incident was “an effort by a criminal defense attorney to drum up a payday.”)

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Disorder in the court: Defendant attorney injured after courthouse argument with DA investigator

Defense attorney James Crawford, who recently won a victory in a court case connected to the ongoing

James M. Crawford, Esq., shortly after his attack on the 10th floor of the Central Orange County Superior Court

informant scandal, said he was attacked by a District Attorney’s investigator.

Santa Ana, CA, March 9, 2016
By SCOTT SCHWEBKE, SEAN EMERY and TONY SAAVEDRA / STAFF WRITERS
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a courthouse fight that broke out Wednesday between a District Attorney’s investigator and a defense attorney who triumphed over prosecutors in a recent case involving jailhouse informants.The investigator and attorney got into an argument that turned physical around 10 a.m. in a hallway outside a 10th floor courtroom, Lt. Mark Stichter said. He didn’t know what prompted the argument.But defense attorney James Crawford said he was attacked by a DA investigator he didn’t recognize.“My back was to him and the next thing I know I find my head getting slammed into a bench.” Crawford said. “He then proceeded to punch me and pin me into the bench.”Crawford represents Henry Rodriguez, a gang member twice convicted of murder who won a retrial last month in the wake of allegations prosecutors improperly used a jailhouse informant and withheld evidence. The Rodriguez trial is one of six cases that has unravelled in the fallout over Orange County’s snitch controversy.
As a result of that ruling, “some in the DA’s office had an animus toward Mr. Crawford,” said Jerry Steering, Crawford’s attorney. “It wasn’t personal,” Steering said of Crawford’s allegations against prosecutors. “But apparently they don’t like him too much.” Crawford said, “They’re still angry over us getting a new trial.” The Sheriff’s Department did not identify the DA investigator.The District Attorney’s office is cooperating with the Sheriff Department’s investigation into the incident, said Roxi Fyad, a spokeswoman for the office. “When the investigation is complete, the matter will be referred to the California Attorney General’s Office for a legal review,” she said.
Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles Margines declined to discuss the altercation.The incident occurred Wednesday after a judge asked Crawford to assist a woman who received a subpoena tied to a trial in Department C40, Steering said. The woman apparently was being offered a limited immunity deal in return for assisting with a case, he said. Steering said Crawford, the woman and an interpreter were talking in the courthouse hallway when an unidentified investigator interferred and stated that defense lawyers are “sleazy.” Crawford replied that they are no worse than those in the District Attorney’s office caught up in the jailhouse informant scandal, Steering said. Crawford began walking away, Steering said, when the investigator threw a paper clip at him.“This sounds like a 7th grade squabble,” Steering said. “My guy turns around and says (an expletive) and (the investigator) just grabbed him and started slamming his head into a bench.”Steering said Crawford didn’t throw any punches. Several nearby officers broke up the altercation.Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said in a statement there were many witnesses to the altercation and that Crawford’s “one-sided version is simply not true.” Among the personnel represented by the association are District Attorney’s investigators.“A careful investigation will reveal the true facts. We are cooperating fully in that investigation and we look forward to the actual facts being released publicly,” Dominguez said.Crawford, who suffered a head wound, plans to file a lawsuit against the county, Steering said.“I’ve seen inmates beat up in a courthouse, but I’ve never seen a DA’s investigator beat up a lawyer,” he said.
Neither the investigator nor the attorney were taken into custody or transported to a hospital for injuries, Stichter said.Contact the writer: 714-796-7767 sschwebke@ocregister.com Twitter: @thechalkoutline
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