When Lindsay Lara isn't administering justice in Marin Superior Court, she's dispensing her own brand of justice at the Food Court.

Lara, a court clerk who lives in San Anselmo, was meeting a friend for lunch at the Northgate mall in Terra Linda last weekend when she felt her purse sliding off her chair. Then she realized a stocky woman in her periphery had snatched the purse and was making for the parking lot.

Lara bolted from her table near the Subway and proceeded to serve up a knuckle sandwich.

Chasing the perp to the getaway car, Lara reached through the window and started punching the woman. A man at the wheel frantically tried to start the engine, while two men in the back sat in stunned inertia.

"I started screaming, 'Give me my purse!'" said Lara, 23. "They couldn't get (the car) in gear, so it bought me 15 more seconds of hitting her in the face over and over again. She was screaming, 'Babe, start the car! Babe, start the car!'"

Meanwhile, Lara's lunchmate, Heather Weinmann, ran out and jumped on the hood of the car.

Weinmann, a 20-year-old San Anselmo resident, said she didn't realize at first why Lara had sprinted out to the parking lot. When she saw Lara punching the woman, instinct took over.

"I had no time to think," said Weinmann, 20, a College of Marin student and nanny. "My instinct was to block the driver from being able to see anything. I got on the hood of the car and blocked his view.

Luckily for everyone they weren't able to start their car."

Witnesses started to gather, and the battered thief relinquished the purse. The car peeled out.

Lara, a former softball player for Novato High School, escaped with some bent fingernails and scrapes on her fist.

"Afterward," Weinmann said, "we reflected on everything and thought, 'Wow that was insane.'"

Lara filed a report with the San Rafael Police Department, and the case is under investigation, said spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher.

The thief was described as white, in her mid-20s, about 150 pounds and 5-foot-3 to 5-foot-6. She had green eyes, thin sharp eyebrows and short brown or blond hair with light streaks. She wore a blue hooded sweatshirt.

The car was described as a dark green Subaru Outback with white paper Mazda plates.

Lara, a self-described adrenaline junkie who likes skydiving and bungee jumping, said she never felt a rush like fending off a purse snatcher.

"It was really empowering to know I could take care of myself," she said.

Contact Gary Klien via email at gklien@marinij.com