Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana. Photo by John Schreiber.
Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana. Photo by John Schreiber.

A defense attorney has filed a $10 million lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana, alleging that his civil rights were violated when he got into a courthouse scuffle with an Orange County District Attorney’s Office investigator.

James Michael Crawford is suing Orange County, the investigator, Dillon P. Alley, and a series of unnamed plaintiffs who the attorney alleges were part of a sprawling, years-long conspiracy to bully innocent people into confessing crimes and using jailhouse snitches illegally to elicit incriminating statements to win convictions.

Crawford himself won a major legal battle Feb. 25 when he secured a new trial for his client, Henry Rodriguez, who was twice convicted of the murder of a woman and her unborn child in Fullerton. The new trial was granted due to the failure to turn over information about a jailhouse informant who testified in one of the trials.

That victory, Crawford claims in the lawsuit, “humiliated” the District Attorney’s Office and ultimately led to a March 9 hallway confrontation with Alley at the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. Crawford alleges that Alley punched him from behind and then held the defense attorney down as he continued pummeling him.

County officials declined to comment, citing a policy of not responding to existing litigation.

Crawford was assigned to represent Berenice Gonzalez, a witness in a criminal case stemming from a bar brawl in Lake Forest. The witness was reluctant to testify because she feared incriminating herself, so prosecutors offered her limited immunity.

According to his lawsuit, Crawford approached the woman to advise her of her rights as she was sitting with Alley, who asked him, “Who the (expletive) are you?” and was  “angered” when Crawford said he was appointed to advise Gonzalez.

An “agitated and angry” Alley kept interrupting the counseling, the lawsuit alleges.

“Defendant Alley stated to plaintiff James Crawford that he was going to listen in on the discussion between James Crawford and Berenice Gonzalez because criminal defense lawyers are ‘sleazy,”‘ the lawsuit alleges.

Crawford says he replied that Alley should not be “making such remarks as the ‘trash’ in his own agency illegally planted paid snitches in jail cells next to other inmates to illegally obtain (or to make up) self-incriminating statements from them.”

Crawford then walked away with Gonzalez, with Alley calling the attorney a “douche bag,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges Alley blocked Crawford as he tried to return to the courtroom and “chest puffed” and “mad dogged” the attorney.

Crawford walked around and past the investigator, while uttering an expletive, and Alley “threw a binder clip at (Crawford) that struck him in the back of his head,” the lawsuit alleges.

Crawford says he picked up the binder and hurled it back at Alley. As he approached the courtroom, Alley “approached the plaintiff from behind, struck him in his head and knocked plaintiff James Crawford down onto the wooden bench in the hallway,” the lawsuit alleges.

Alley “pounced on top of plaintiff,” pinned him down and them “repeatedly punch(ed) the plaintiff with his bare fist approximately eight to 10 times, delivering repeated closed-fist blows brutally and viciously pummeling plaintiff’s face and head, causing plaintiff severe injury to his face and head area,” the lawsuit alleges.

Santa Ana police and sheriff’s deputies pulled Alley off the attorney.

“One eyewitness to the beating of the plaintiff by Alley, an investigator with the Orange County Alternate Defender’s Office, believed that Alley was so full of rage while beating the plaintiff that she did not believe that Alley would not stop punching the plaintiff without being stopped from doing so by another,” the lawsuit says.

Crawford alleges his First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated.

“A substantial or motivating factor in the decision by Alley to physically attack and to beat up the plaintiff, was the plaintiff’s exercise of his right to freedom of speech and his right to protest to and to complain to and to criticize the government; his right to petition the government for redress of grievances; all under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit alleges.

The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs has blasted Crawford and argued his version of the fight is false. The union claimed that Crawford started the fight.

In June, the state Attorney General’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges in the fight.

“It is truly unfortunate that criminal defense attorney James Crawford is being allowed to get away with attacking a sworn peace officer without any consequences,” the union’s president, Tom Dominguez, said when the Attorney General’s Office declined prosecution.

“We as a society should not tolerate it,” Dominguez said. “As we have stated repeatedly, criminal attorney James Crawford’s one-sided version of events is simply not true. Criminal attorney Crawford and his lawyer Jerry Steering have spent the last several months doing their best to manipulate the media, the public and the criminal defense bar into publicly persecuting a district attorney investigator based on wildly inaccurate facts solely to drum up a pay day.”

–City News Service 

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