Orange County

Brawl Between OC Lawyers Leads to $10 Million Suit

The lawyers had reportedly never met before the March 2016 fight

Depending on who you talk to, a bloody brawl at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana two years ago was started by a foul-mouthed defense attorney or an expletive-spewing Orange County District Attorney's Office investigator.

A federal jury was tasked Thursday with deciding the dueling lawsuits filed by attorney James Crawford and Dillon Alley stemming from their March 9, 2016, courthouse dust-up.

Crawford is demanding $10 million. It's unclear what Alley wants.

Crawford's attorney, Jerry Steering, recounted how his client won a retrial for a murder defendant, who had been jailed for 18 years, based on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct by prosecutors and sheriff's deputies with the use of a jailhouse informant. Steering said the legal victory came at a time when the so-called snitch scandal was rocking both agencies and represented an embarrassment for law enforcement.

"A lot of people were uneasy about this," Steering said. "It was a problem."

Steering and Alley's attorney, Norman Watkins, said multiple witnesses will offer varying accounts of what happened the day of the brawl.

Crawford was summoned to the courthouse that day to provide legal advice to a potential witness to a stabbing at a Lake Forest bar, who was being offered limited immunity against incriminating herself in the attack. A Spanish- language interpreter backs up Crawford's version of events with pre-recorded testimony, Steering said.

Alley's job that day was to guard the witness, Berenice Gonzalez, and her "common-law" husband and their 2-year-old child, Steering said.

When Crawford went looking for Gonzalez, Alley said, "Who the (expletive) are you?" according to Steering, who said that set "the tone for things to come."

When Crawford explained his task, Alley said, "I'm going to listen in because criminal defense lawyers are sleazy," according to Steering.

He said Crawford replied, "(Expletive) you. You work with scum in your office, using jailhouse informants to get convictions."

After Crawford walked away with his client to discuss her testimony, Alley called him a "douchebag," and later, when Crawford attempted to enter the courtroom, Alley stood in the middle of the hallway "chest puffing in a menacing manner," Steering said.

Alley continued giving Crawford, who insulted Alley with an expletive, the "evil eye" as the lawyer walked by, according to Steering.

The two continued exchanging insults and expletives until Alley flung a binder clip, which struck Crawford in the back of the head, Steering said.

Crawford picked up the clip and zinged it back at Alley, prompting more "unpleasantries" before Alley "came up from behind Mr. Crawford, took his right arm and whacked him in the side of the head," sending the lawyer sprawling into hallway benches, Steering said.

There's some discrepancy about which side of the head Alley "repeatedly" punched Crawford, so his legal team will have a boxing expert testify about disorientation during a brawl, Steering said.

Crawford was left with a scar on his upper lip, and despite his bloodied face and shirt wanted to continue representing his client in the hearing that day, Steering said. Instead, the witness decided to go with another lawyer and Crawford later that day went to an emergency room for treatment of a broken nose and orbital bone, Steering said.

A dentist is also expected to testify that the lawyer broke a tooth in the scrum, Steering said.

Watkins said the witness, Gonzalez, was "tearful and afraid" because the defendant and his family were nearby in the courthouse hallway as she was considering testifying against him.

Alley and Crawford had never met before, Watkins said.

One witness is expected to testify that Crawford was profane to Alley and waved two fingers in the now-retired investigator's face before the fisticuffs, Watkins said.

"Then Mr. Crawford, in a rage, lunged at Mr. Alley and took a roundhouse and smacked the investigator on the left side of his face," Watkins said.

By this time, Crawford understood Alley was a gun-toting law enforcement officer, "and with that frame of mind, he chooses to smack the investigator as hard as he can," Watkins said.

Alley's "training" kicked in to keep the attorney from grabbing his gun, according to Watkins, who said there's no dispute that Alley repeatedly slugged Crawford.

As other law enforcement officers rushed to break up the brawl, Alley immediately put his hands up and declared he was an investigator with a gun, Watkins said.

He said Allens declared: "Pull the tape" because "he knows" it will clear him.

It turns out there was no conclusive evidence from the courthouse video on who caused the fight. The Attorney General's Office declined to press charges in the dispute.

Alley said his thumb was dislocated in the fight and that Crawford pulled on his tie with such force it had to be cut off of him. Alley "suffered severe headaches and depression and retired not too soon after that," according to Watkins.

An Orange County prosecutor is expected to testify that Crawford has a history of "toxic bias" against prosecutors and was once reprimanded by a judge for calling her a "(expletive) bitch" in court, Watkins said.

"That toxic bias is going to reveal itself in this case," he said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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