A Hennepin County mental health referee escaped serious injury Thursday when he was attacked and repeatedly punched by a mentally ill man during a civil commitment hearing, a court official said.

Referee Anthony Schumacher was attacked at the start of a 10:15 a.m. civil commitment trial at the Government Center in Minneapolis, said District Judge Jay Quam, who presides over the county's probate and mental health courts.

Without warning, Truman Harper, 25, rushed Schumacher and hit him at least twice in the face before a deputy and others pulled him away. Quam said Schumacher did not appear to suffer serious injuries.

Harper was taken to a mental health facility for further evaluation. According to court records, he was committed for mental illness in 2007 and 2010.

Quam said such courtroom assaults are "a rare occurrence when you look at the numbers, but it highlights the volatile nature of the proceedings that go on here."

Referees preside over civil court hearings, including those held in mental health, housing and probate cases. Their findings and orders are reviewed and signed by a judge.