Who Kicked The Shit Out Of James Crawford?
Mar. 11, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — An (as yet unnamed) investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is probably having a good laugh with his office after beating up defense attorney James Crawford for his unsportsmanlike practice of winning motions.
For more than a year now, prosecutors in Orange County have been getting savagely pummeled by their own poor decision-making. Judges have viciously gavel-banged them with new trials and the threat of sanctions, forcing prosecutors to offer defendants favorable plea deals.
Why? Because prosecutors in Orange County have spent the past decade planting jailhouse informants near defendants, offering them consideration for incriminating testimony, giving them recording devices, and then withholding that arrangement from defense counsel, the judge, and the jury.
How good was this consideration? Well, the OC Register reports that two full-time jailhouse informants were paid $150,000 for their services, receiving special food and cable television in their cells. It’s no wonder that one judge called the scandal a “black eye” for Orange County.
And the scandal gets worse. In one case, prosecutors were caught lying to a judge, telling him that they had not turned over exculpatory information because federal prosecutors forbade them. That same federal prosecutor then became a state judge, and denied under oath ever saying that Orange County prosecutors could not turn over the information.
James Crawford scored a major win in one of these cases. His client, Henry Rodriguez, had been convicted in large part on the testimony of a man, Michael Garrity, who had been placed in a cell with him. At the time of Rodriguez’s trial, Crawford moved to exclude Garrity’s testimony because he was acting as a paid informant.
Orange County prosecutors earnestly promised the judge that Garrity was simply conveying what he had heard as a “passive listener”, and was not expecting any compensation. But when the snitching scandal broke out, Crawford found records demonstrating that Garrity was routinely testifying for the government as an informant, which suggests a rather active form of listening. As a result, the judge granted Rodriguez a new trial.
James Crawford came to court representing a woman who had been subpoenaed as a witness. An investigator from the prosecutor’s office was called in to do what they do best—hover around the State’s witnesses to make sure that defense attorneys don’t have a chance to speak with them.
The Los Angeles Times summarized what happened next:
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.
Naturally, after pulling the investigator off the defense attorney, who suffered a broken nose, deputies failed to make an arrest. To the contrary, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs came forward to say that “[a] careful investigation will reveal the true facts. We are cooperating fully in that investigation and we look forward to the actual facts being released publicly.”
Let’s talk for a minute about the actual facts. If James Crawford had struck the first blow, he would not be sleeping in his own bed that night. His name would not be redacted in early news reports. A bar grievance would have probably already been filed.
But because a member of the District Attorney’s Office decided to turn the courthouse into his own personal octagon, suddenly, the investigation has to slow to a crawl while county officials “investigate.”
It’s no surprise that there have been no consequences yet for this investigator, because the general trend in California has been near absolute impunity for prosecutors and their staff who commit misconduct. Who could forget Judge Kozinski’s rather entertaining questions to the assigned prosecutor at oral argument in Baca v. California, asking why a prosecutor who had deliberately perjured himself to secure a conviction had not been charged, or his bar license pulled?
Who could forget that one of the worst offenders in these cases, Erik Petersen, nearly got a job as a federal prosecutor in Judge Kopf’s own stomping grounds of Nebraska, before someone bothered to read the newspaper and realized he might be a bad hire?
In short, why not hit a defense attorney if he’s getting on your nerves? Why not lie about confidential informants, if your worst-case scenario is having to try to convict the defendant again? A history of impunity has led to a culture that disdains defense attorneys as “sleazy” while engaging in practices that would make J. Edgar Hoover blush.
In Orange County, don’t be surprised if a punch in the face leads to a slap on the wrist.