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Lawyer and D.A. investigator have bloody brawl in Orange County courthouse

The 10th floor of a Santa Ana courthouse was the site of a bloody brawl Wednesday between a defense attorney and an investigator from the Orange County district attorney’s office, authorities said.

The fight erupted about 10:30 a.m. in the courthouse hallway between defense attorney James Crawford and the unidentified investigator, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Stichter.

Crawford, who recently won a high-profile court victory against the district attorney’s office in the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal, was left bleeding, battered and bruised.

It’s unclear what, if any, injuries the investigator had.

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.

Crawford, whose shirt was sprayed with blood and who had a visibly swollen eye, immediately filed a police report, his attorney said. Several witnesses were present, he added.

Steering said that a recent legal victory by Crawford may have played a role in starting the fight.

Crawford represents Henry Rodriguez, an accused gang member convicted of murder who won a retrial last month. A judge ruled that authorities should have given Rodriguez’s attorney the jailhouse records showing that a key witness had acted as an informant in numerous other cases.

"The D.A. investigator is assaulting a guy who just got a new trial for someone," Steering said. "It is his only apparent motive."

In an interview, Crawford said the unprovoked attack left him with a sinus fracture and he sought medical treatment Wednesday evening.

"I began seeing lights from all the blows," he said. "He slammed me into a wood bench and punched me repeatedly. … I don’t remember if he was saying anything at the time."

No arrests were made, Stichter said.

The incident is under investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which will turn over its completed probe to the state attorney general’s office for review.

The Orange County district attorney’s office referred all questions on the case to the sheriff’s department, according to a statement.

For breaking news in California, follow @LACrimes.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

March 10, 9:57 a.m.: This article was udated with an interview with Crawford.

This article was originally published at 11:25 p.m. on March 9.

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