Attorney Aaron Brockler is used to fighting for his clients — but not so used to his clients trying to fight him.
The Cleveland-based lawyer — whose firm’s answering machine advertises “smart, aggressive representation” — turned to his client on Tuesday after a judge in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court issued a lengthy prison sentence: 47 years. Brockler wanted to let his client, David Chislton, know he would try to get the time reduced.
Next thing Brockler knew, he told The Washington Post, he was on his back, under a courtroom table and beneath Chislton, who was biting him.
Chislton punched Brockler in the face shortly after the judge issued her ruling, according to Brockler’s account, a police report and body camera footage of the incident.
“He was hoping to get under 20 years,” Brockler said in an interview. “And I think, when the judge said 47, he just snapped and I was the closest person to him and he let it out on me.”
The collision sent Brockler sprawling and left him with an injured hip, a broken nose and a concussion, he said.
“He definitely knocked me out,” said Brockler, who used to play ice hockey. “It took me back to my hockey days. It was just like getting hit in the head with a slap shot.”
The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office charged Chislton with felonious assault for the courtroom incident, which the department’s spokesman told The Post was unprecedented in his time there.
“I have been here 12 years and have not seen anything similar,” said Officer John O’Brien.
Chislton was in court that day to receive a sentence stemming from a 2017 standoff with police, in which Chislton reportedly assaulted his girlfriend, who accused him of sexually abusing a teenage girl, and set his apartment complex on fire.
He pleaded guilty to domestic violence and multiple counts of felonious assault and aggravated arson, court records show.
Chislton knew he was looking at substantial prison time, Brockler said. Brockler was Chislton’s third lawyer on the case, he said, after Chislton clashed with the first two. Chislton appreciated Brockler’s help, the lawyer said. And, after working together, Brockler found him relatively mild-mannered.
During the trial, as one of Chislton’s victims testified about his tendency to lash out suddenly, Brockler remembered thinking to himself, “Really? But he seems so calm."
“Then, boom,” Brockler added.
The attorney said he is thankful that his injuries aren’t worse, but, he said, he’d like to see the sheriff’s office — which is in charge of securing the courtroom — review what went wrong that led to the assault. Brockler said Chislton was handcuffed from the front, with full range of motion available. That was the “key mistake,” Brockler said.
The department did not respond to a request for comment about Chislton’s restraints, but a statement from the court’s top judge alluded to courthouse safety protocols.
“This incident is a reminder that the safety of our employees, citizens and anyone else in our courtrooms should be a top priority,” said Judge John J. Russo. “We thank the deputies and others who responded during the incident for their quick actions, and we encourage the Sheriff’s Department to fully review safety protocols for Court proceedings.”
Brockler got into criminal defense because he wanted to help people, he said, and the lumps he took won’t change his mind about that. But he is going to make “darn sure” that his clients are properly restrained.
Chislton, meanwhile, may be facing additional charges for the courtroom incident. And he may need to find a new lawyer.
“He’s a former client at this point,” Brockler said.