A state legal organization Friday criticized the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for its “silence” on a courthouse brawl this week between one of its investigators and a defense attorney and appeared to put some of the blame on the office for the scrum.

Tony Rackauckas. Photo via orangecountyda.org
“The hostility (District Attorney Tony) Rackauckas has allowed some in his office to show toward criminal defense attorneys and our system of justice has hit a new low,” said Jacqueline Goodman, a Fullerton-based attorney who is an executive committee member of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

Goodman faulted prosecutors for apparently not placing the investigator, who she identified as Dillon Alley, on suspension during a probe of the conflict.

“While I do not condone a rush to judgment, I am concerned that the D.A.’s silence gives the appearance of more protection of ‘one of their own,”‘ Goodman said, calling it an “affront to the criminal justice system and to the citizens of Orange County that this D.A. would allow this to happen on his watch and stay completely silent.”

“We call for a thorough, independent investigation into the incident to ensure that the criminal justice system in Orange County is above reproach, and that no one is above the law,” Goodman said.

Alley’s attorney, Paul Meyer, responded, “Lawyers above all others should reach conclusions based on independent facts. There are definitely two sides to this story. It’s unprofessional to jump to conclusions ahead of an investigation. Let the investigation continue.”

The District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department have so far refused to release the name of the investigator, but various sources have confirmed it is Alley.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Roxi Fyad referred to prior statements issued by the office, which on the day of the clash pledged to fully cooperate with sheriff’s investigators.

The D.A.’s office also signaled that if any criminal charges result, the state Attorney General’s Office would handle the case, and said it could not comment on the status of Alley’s employment based on state laws requiring that the agency have “all the pertinent information into a matter under review before any (human resources) 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.”

The Sheriff’s Department issued a statement this afternoon saying its “main concern right now is to conduct a professional and thorough investigation for the purpose of determining what actually happened based on all the facts. The decision to not arrest someone does not impact our investigation at all or its eventual outcome.”

The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents the D.A. investigator, claims defense attorney James Crawford started the fight, which broke out about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday on the 10th floor of the Central Justice Center at 700 W. Civic Center Drive.

Crawford’s “one-sided version of events is simply not true,” said union President Tom Dominguez.

“We are deeply disturbed by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice’s willingness to blindly support an inaccurate account without all of the facts. Assumptions, political theater, and wishful thinking are not facts,” the union said in a statement.

The union accused Crawford of threatening to sue the county and that the attorney was engaging in an effort “to drum up a payday.”

Crawford claims the investigator threw the first punch.

“I was assaulted,” Crawford told City News Service on Wednesday. “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 said he 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 (that informants) were illegally used to win convictions and he didn’t like that and went berserk,” Crawford said.

Crawford referred further questions to his lawyer, Jerry Steering, who said the investigator was protective of the witness.

According to Steering, the investigator asked Crawford, “Who the hell are you?”, which prompted Crawford to reply he “was appointed by the court to advise this lady about her rights.”

The investigator “scoffed” and “moved aside,” according to Steering, who said the “sleazy” accusation sparked the argument.

“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 picked up a “heavy paper clip” and “whipped” it at Crawford, Steering alleged. 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 alleged.

Crawford sustained two black eyes and his left eye was swollen shut, according to Steering, who said “there was blood everywhere” after the brawl.

— City News Service

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