MARTINEZ -- A top administrator in the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office is being sued by a former colleague for punching him in the face during an office brawl two years ago.
The fight came amid a highly contentious 2010 election in which the two high-ranking prosecutors backed opposing candidates in the district attorney's race.
Paul Sequeira, who was assistant district attorney under former DA Robert Kochly and now holds the same job in Mendocino County, filed the suit Wednesday against senior deputy district attorney Harold Jewett for attacking him during a heated argument inside the DA office's Martinez headquarters in March 2010.
Sequeira, who was ranked No. 3 in the office at that time, received stitches under his left eye after the fight and later had surgery on his right eye for partial vision loss. Jewett says he hit Sequeira in self-defense before both men went to the ground in a struggle, according to internal documents obtained by this newspaper.
Jewett, once named California's prosecutor of the year, was placed on 30 days unpaid administrative leave after the incident and lost his position as supervisor of the homicide unit. Sequeira missed weeks of work for medical treatment.
The two men, who were considered among the most skilled and headstrong prosecutors in the office, had other blowouts in their decades as colleagues, but that was their only physical altercation, according to investigative
Jewett declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he has contended in internal communications that he acted in self-defense. Sequeira's complaint says Jewett assaulted him without warning, and that he has no self-defense claim.
The lawsuit, which names Jewett and John Does 1-20, demands a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages for Sequeira's medical bills, attorney's fees and pain and suffering. It's unclear whether Contra Costa County will be added as a defendant.
Sequeira also has a pending claim against the county stemming from the fight in which he seeks $300,000. That claim, filed in September 2010, has been discussed by the Board of Supervisors in closed session meetings but remains unresolved.
Several people witnessed the fight, which occurred in a third prosecutor's office around 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. Tensions were high as prosecutors were divided over the high-stakes district attorney election, while tackling rising case loads in a budget crisis that had staff levels at a modern-day low.
According to official reports and statements about the incident, the fight unfolded like this:
Sequeira was criticizing another prosecutor in the hallway, and his loud voice lured Jewett from his office. Sequeira repeatedly ordered Jewett to return to his desk and Jewett refused, asserting that Sequeira was not his boss, and he had a right to be there.
As the argument escalated, Sequeira accused Jewett of harming the office with a letter to the editor that ran in the Contra Costa Times. Jewett wrote the letter in response to an editorial that criticized then-district attorney candidate Mark Peterson for asking the state attorney general's office to investigate whether Dan O'Malley and his supporters had broken campaign laws.
Sequeira, and the majority of local prosecutors, backed O'Malley, a former Contra Costa prosecutor and judge who was cleared of wrongdoing by the state. Jewett, who supported Peterson, countered that he wrote the letter because politicking was undermining the office.
Sequeira and Jewett were body to body, with their faces touching, and screaming at each other when Jewett threw the first of several punches. He said Sequeira was the aggressor who leaned in before their faces touched.
Sequeira told an investigator he didn't remember who advanced on whom. They were wrestling on the ground when colleagues ripped them apart.
Sequeira told investigators that he probably would have hit Jewett had they not been at work. Jewett said he deeply regretted the incident, but he stands by his right to defend himself.
The two men, who have handled some of the county's highest-profile trials in recent decades, were strategically kept in separate bureaus for the rest of 2010. Once Peterson took office in January 2011, he demoted Sequeira, who then fled to the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.
Peterson promoted Jewett, which frustrated colleagues outraged by the workplace violence.
Neither Sequeira nor his attorney returned calls for comment Wednesday.