A judge pulled a gun on a crutch-swinging defendant who went berserk in a crowded rural courtroom after being found guilty of harassment.
A police officer shot and wounded the man, who had a plaster cast on his leg, after he lunged at Judge Carlton Teel and tried to grab the weapon, authorities in Goodwater, Alabama, said.
But some witnesses disputed the account, saying the man never threatened the judge.
Struck by at least one bullet, the man, identified by witnesses as Bryant Ford, was taken by helicopter to the hospital at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, where he was said to be in a good condition.
"The guy came over the bench at him trying to get it," said lawyer Keith Warren, who was in court representing another person. "He just literally got in the judge's face, then backed off and started swinging the crutch at the judge."
But some of the 40 or so people who were in the court in Goodwater, about 60 miles north of Montgomery, disagreed, saying they did not see the man attack the judge, who was sitting behind a tall desk, or attempt to grab a gun.
Sara Williams said she was sitting in the front row when the man, whom she knew, became agitated after the judge fined him about £500, waving one of his crutches in the air.
"The police were hollering for him to get down" when an officer opened fire, she said.
Ms Williams said she yelled: "Don't shoot him no more!" just before the officer fired again.
Later she and more than a dozen people stood across the road from City Hall chanting: "We want justice."
But Mr Warren said: "This gentleman forced the police officer to shoot him. There was no reason for the guy to become as irate as he got. He went nuts."
Anyone who claimed the man did not attack the judge was either unable to see or was telling an "outright lie", he added.
Court records showed that Ford, 25, was due in court on a harassment charge filed by a neighbour who claimed he swore at her in December after accusing her of talking to police about him. Judge Teel heard the case without a jury and the trial lasted less than five minutes.
Judge Teel's brother Frank, a lawyer in nearby Rockford, said district court proceedings were held once a month at Goodwater City Hall for people who could not get to the county seat.
"I've not talked to him, but I'm told he was OK," Mr Teel said of his brother. The judge's aide suffered powder burns, he said.