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Video: Ouch! Lawyer punched

TODAY contributor
updated 2/7/2008 8:43:18 AM ET 2008-02-07T13:43:18

A public defender who was sucker-punched in court by a prisoner he was appointed to defend says he harbors no “ill will” and understands that most of the people he represents have serious issues.

“As a public defender, a majority of my clients are mentally ill or have mental illness,” a heavily bruised Doug Crickmer told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Thursday. “In Mr.[Peter] Hafer’s case, I certainly don’t fault him or blame him or wish him any ill will.”

A chaotic scene at Kentucky's Scott County Circuit Court, captured on security video, showed Hafer, 30, telling Judge Rob Johnson that he was dissatisfied with Crickmer’s service.

As Crickmer began to explain to the judge that his client couldn’t choose his public defender, Hafer lunged at him and connected with a roundhouse right to the jaw.

After Crickmer fell to the ground, Hafer added some body shots to the stomach before being restrained by the bailiff and others.

Despite having been pummeled, Crickmer said he understands how Hafer may have felt.

“Mr. Hafer had been in jail for some time. He’s looking at some significant jail time if he’s convicted. He’s got some new charges coming at him. He has some anger-management issues. I think he just snapped.”

Crickmer, who suffered a cut on his cheek and a black eye, was taken to Georgetown Community Hospital and released later in the day.

“He definitely one-shotted me, that’s for sure,” he told Vieira.

New charges likely
Hafer, who is likely facing an assault charge, was arrested in August for his alleged involvement in a K-Mart store robbery in June that resulted in $51,000 in stolen jewelry. He is facing three charges and was in court on Monday for a final review of the case, which was to be tried at the end of this month.

Image: Peter Hafer
Before the disorder in the court, Hafer complained to the judge that Crickmer hadn’t spent “more than 15 minutes” with him in the past three months.

“I’d rather have the prosecutor be my attorney than [Crickmer],” Hafer told Johnson. “He’d probably give me a better trial.”

Rodney Barnes, directing attorney for the Public Advocate Frankfort Trial office, said he was “satisfied that Doug had done what he should be doing on this case.”

“I know that Doug has seen him on many, many occasions,” Barnes said. “Doug has talked to me about his case.”

Hafer, speaking from the Scott County jail, was not remorseful for his attack on Crickmer.

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“I just hit him,” he told WLEX. “I didn’t realize what I was doing until like ... was on the ground when they grabbed me.”

Crickmer, an assistant public advocate for 10 years, felt Hafer was “just frustrated.”

“I certainly don’t think it was premeditated in any way,” Crickmer said. “I think he just got frustrated, fed up and he just snapped and I was the nearest target.”

Hafer’s mother told Barnes that her son might have bipolar disorder, although he has not been screened for it. In 1997, he was convicted in two assault cases.

For now, Hafer appears to have fought the lawyer, and the lawyer didn’t win. Hafer will now get the different attorney he sought and his next final hearing has been pushed back to March 3.

Vieira asked Crickmer if he would still defend Hafer.

“Well, I definitely think there’s a conflict of interest now,” Crickmer said with a laugh. “You know, I’d be happy to continue representing Mr. Hafer. I don’t have any problem with him. I understand some of the issues he’s going through, but my supervisor is assigning Mr. Hafer another attorney.”

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