A violent state courthouse encounter between an Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) investigator and a criminal defense attorney tied to the infamous jailhouse informant scandal officially landed inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse today with both sides using profanity-laced opening statements to portray their clients as the victim in a bloody 2016 ruckus.
Together, Jerry Steering, who represents lawyer James Crawford, and Norm Watkins, the taxpayer-funded counsel for Dillon Alley, uttered the “F” word more than a dozen times inside U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter’s Santa Ana courtroom as a jury of six women and one man listened.
Cursing rarely is heard in Carter’s no-nonsense presence, but the judge encouraged the lawyers not to sanitize their stories, which included the two grown men, now plaintiffs seeking financial damages against the other, of standing in the 10th floor hallway of the Orange County Superior Court two years ago and hurling insults before combat.
Witnesses heard the parties yelling “scum,” “douche bag,” a variation of sleaze bag and requests for the other to engage in improbable solo sex with himself.
Then, according to Steering, Alley threw a metal paper clip that struck Crawford in the back of the head. Crawford returned the pleasantry, lobbing the clip back.
Watkins basically agreed on those points, but he claims Alley, who towers over Crawford and earned a reputation in the OCDA as a tough guy, was afraid of the paper clip.
Steering says Alley then began repeatedly punching his client, who’d turned and was walking away.
“Mr. Alley was going nuts on him and just lost it, just punching him and punching him and punching him,” he told the jury.
Watkins tells a different tale. He says a “very angry,” red-faced Crawford struck a calm, professional Alley first with a slap and claimed his client need to protect the handgun he carried, so he began pounding on the lawyer’s face with fist.
“Mr. Alley definitely got the best of Mr. Crawford,” he said, barely suppressing glee.
He’s right. A bloody Crawford suffered a fractured nose, facial abrasions, fractured eye bone and a busted tooth.
Alley, who was taking home an annual pay package of $192,000 until he retired after the incident, claims the thumb on the fist he used to beat the attorney got dislocated and the fight caused him depression, a scenario he thinks earns him the jury’s compensation.
“This turned his life upside down,” Watkins said after accusing Crawford of possessing “a toxic bias” against OCDA staff.
In support, he told jurors the defense attorney years ago called a female prosecutor “a bitch.”
It’s Steering’s’ contention that Alley launched his attack because Crawford had won a new murder trial for 18-year prison inmate Henry Rodriguez base on chronic OCDA informant cheating.
“The DA’s office was embarrassed about this,” he said.
Watkins countered by arguing neither man knew each other before the fight.
Judge Carter expects the jury, which includes a retired mailman, an accountant, a medical assistant and a high school English teacher, to get the case for deliberations by April 13.
Interesting footnote: Vikki Vargas, an award-winning KNBC-LA reporter, got summoned as a juror in the case but, as you might guess, wasn’t selected.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.