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West Hartford, Conn., police officials are seeking an arrest warrant against a local attorney who allegedly lunged at opposing counsel during a May 4 deposition, sources told The Law Tribune last week. The incident took place at the Farmington Avenue law offices of James S. Brewer, who represents the widow of a West Hartford police officer who committed suicide while on duty in 1998. The widow, who is suing the town, claims police officials could have prevented her husband’s death. Brewer was taking the deposition of West Hartford Police Lt. Jack Casey when the lawyer, known for opposing police brass in litigation, “completely snapped,” according to West Hartford Corp. Counsel Joseph O’Brien, who was both present and Brewer’s intended target, O’Brien alleged. In an interview last week, O’Brien, 53, said he thought he might wind up in the hospital. It was Casey, however, who needed medical attention after he broke a rib as he stepped in between the two men, O’Brien said. “I never thought the practice of law involved pugilism. I’ve practiced law for 28 years and have never been physically assaulted,” O’Brien said, acknowledging that Brewer never actually struck him. “Brewer,” O’Brien alleged, “was in a total rage, flinging his fists around. He was trying to punch his way past Lt. Casey to get to me and pummel me. He wanted to cause as much damage to me as he could. He could have killed me depending where those blows landed.” O’Brien said it took Casey and a male paralegal to restrain Brewer from attacking him. Brewer did not return telephone messages. But in an interview with The Hartford Courant, he denied physically assaulting anyone. The matter has been referred to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. Officials there would not comment on the case. As of press time, an arrest warrant against Brewer had yet to be obtained, sources said. New Haven attorney Norm Pattis, who is representing Brewer, said the whole investigation seems a little unusual to him. “Jim’s got a lot of enemies up in that neck of the woods,” said Pattis, referring to the law enforcement community. “Jim’s got a bit of a temper, but a lot of lawyers have a temper,” Pattis added. “I wonder if Jim is being singled out. There’s more than one way to silence a critic.” Pattis, of William & Pattis, said he’s never heard of police officers investigating conduct at a deposition in a civil suit. Police officials have submitted affidavits supporting an arrest warrant against Brewer to Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano. Normally, Hartford State’s Attorney James Thomas would be the one conducting the investigation, but Thomas is currently being sued by Brewer in an unrelated matter. Reached last week, West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci would only say that the investigation is “ongoing.” He would not elaborate on what charges Brewer could face. Casey has been out of work since the incident with a broken rib, police officials said. The earliest he was expected to return to work was May 14. The injury, which Brewer has questioned, is described as “not serious, but significant.” During the deposition of Casey, Brewer began asking him about unrelated litigation in which Brewer is representing a West Hartford middle school student who faces expulsion, according to O’Brien. Casey, as head of the police department’s community relations division, oversees the police officers assigned to the town’s public schools. O’Brien said he objected to the line of questioning, but Brewer persisted. The tension elevated to the point where “I finally said we had to adjourn the deposition,” O’Brien said. Brewer, who O’Brien estimated is 6’1″ and weighs 225 pounds, backed the taller, slightly heavier O’Brien into a corner of the conference room, before Casey and the paralegal intervened, O’Brien said. What makes the altercation even more unusual is that most of it was videotaped. Brewer had hired a videographer to record the deposition. A police source said most of what took place could be observed on the tape. Pattis said he has not seen the tape. Strillacci said the tape is in the hands of Morano’s office. “It’s the property of the court now,” he said. Pattis and Brewer were invited to the police station to make a statement following the incident, but Pattis declined. “It’s rarely the case where I’ve seen somebody benefit from talking to the police,” he said. “If the town’s attorney hadn’t cut and run, none of this would have happened.” Police, according to Pattis, typically arrest both sides in a breach of peace dispute. But a West Hartford police official, speaking anonymously, said only Brewer is being presented for criminal charges in the case. O’Brien said, from his reading of the law, Brewer could be charged with assault in the second degree, assault on a police officer, attempted assault in the third degree and threatening. He said neither he nor anybody from his office will ever step foot in Brewer’s law firm again. O’Brien also plans to file a grievance against Brewer, but has yet to do so, he said. NOT ONE-TIME DEAL Brewer has been reprimanded twice by the Statewide Grievance Committee — once for a fee dispute and once for not adequately supervising an attorney in his employ. In February 2001, Brewer was arrested after an incident with a construction crew near his West Hartford home. In January 2002, he was reportedly fined $244 for two counts of creating a public disturbance after he pleaded guilty under the Alford doctrine. More serious charges of falsely reporting an incident and making false statements to police were dropped. Just this month Brewer was also sanctioned for $5,000 by U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall for his behavior in depositions in a case involving a Hartford police officer. In her May 7 ruling in Russo v. City of Hartford, Hall wrote, “It is beyond the ability of this court to understand why Brewer has conducted himself as he has. Without a sanction in these cases, Attorney Brewer would consider himself free to harass, obstruct and frustrate the conduct of litigation, adding large expense to the civil justice process for all parties, preventing the prompt resolution of cases, and engendering disrespect for the court.” Actions by attorneys on both sides of the case led the court to issue two sets of specific rules for depositions. The rules provided, in part, that counsel not engage in any argument during a deposition. Also, the deposing counsel could not argue with, threaten or berate a witness. The rules also required that all sessions be videotaped with the video focusing specifically on the attorneys. Brewer can be seen on one of the videotapes, the court determined, physically confronting a witness and his attorney, and threatening, “indeed, seemingly taunting them into a physical fight,” Hall wrote. “Nothing opposing counsel did justifies or excuses Attorney Brewer’s responsive conduct.” Hall scoffed at Brewer’s defense that the depositions were tense situations in which he had to use whatever method he could. “The proffered justification that the atmosphere at these depositions was ‘tense’ is analogous to that of the murderer of his parents who asks for mercy because he is an orphan,” the judge remarked.

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