Accused Ex-White House Attorney Was No-Show At Civil Trial
On the eve of when evidence in the civil trial was to begin Dec. 9, Farren sent an email to the Stamford Superior Court. He said simply that he was in Hartford Hospital seeking medical treatment.
When Bush administration lawyer John Michael Farren appeared in court to defend himself against a civil lawsuit over claims he tried to kill his ex-wife, he was was always dressed in a suit and tie.
In fact, Farren had fired his civil lawyer and insisted on representing himself. In pre-trial hearings, he wanted the judge to call him "Attorney Farren."
"He demonstrated he's a skilled lawyer," said one of his ex-wife's lawyers, Paul Slager, of Silver, Golub & Teitell in Stamford. Slager and Ernest Teitell represented Mary Margaret Farren, who is also a lawyer, in her civil suit against Farren.
"The judge commented on the quality of his legal work," said Teitell.
But suddenly when it was time to pick a jury earlier this month, Attorney John Michael Farren was no longer dressed in a suit. His attire now consisted of jeans and a flannel shirt.
Also, he wanted to be called by his name, minus "attorney" in front of it.
Then on the eve of when evidence in the civil trial was to begin Dec. 9, Farren sent an email to the Stamford Superior Court. He said simply that he was in Hartford Hospital seeking medical treatment.
Judge Robert Genuario delayed the start of evidence to Dec. 10 and sent emails back to Farren, hoping to get further information about his situation. Farren was warned that the trial would go on without him if he failed to provide medical documentation supporting his condition. But he made no further replies.
Genuario then entered a default judgment and Slager and Teitell presented their client's case without Farren there.
Farren's decision to not respond has proved costly. The jury ultimately awarded Mary Farren $28.6 million in damages, $20 million of which was for non-economic damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery. The other $8.6 million in economic damages is for lost earnings, as she's been unable to work since the attack. The amount includes lost wages as well as what she was expected to earn in the future, Teitell explained.
Farren could file a motion to try to vacate the default order, which could wipe the jury's award out, if granted. But no one involved with the civil case has heard from him.
Mary Farren is a former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington D.C. A senior partner at the firm testified during the civil trial about what a good lawyer she was. Other experts testified that Mary Farren's brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder left her unable to continue working.
"When J. Michael Farren pinned Mary Margaret down and placed his hands around her throat, strangling her, he said 'I'm killing you,'" Slager told the jury during his closing argument. "She lived, but in a way he did kill her. He did kill her. The Mary Margaret today is different from the Mary Margaret from before the attack. She's a shell of her former self and she's been transformed from the person she was before the attack to a different person."
Farren was charged in early 2010 with attempted murder, first-degree assault and first-degree strangulation. His criminal case is still pending. His criminal lawyer, Eugene Riccio, did not return calls last week.
According to published reports, Farren is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation in an effort to show he was legally insane at the time of the attack. A dispute over who would pay for the evaluation is partly to blame for the slow pace of the criminal proceedings, especially since his assets were frozen while the civil and divorce cases against him were pending. The divorce case has since resolved.
Farren's next criminal court date is scheduled for Jan. 21.
"She's an extraordinarily courageous person," said Slager. "These are painful steps for her to go through. She's been remarkably strong."
Farren allegedly beat his wife two days after she had served him with divorce papers.
She had told him they couldn't work out their marital problems because of his temper.
The Farrens had been married since May 1997 after meeting in Washington, D.C.
Mary Farren told police he hit her with a metal flashlight, pulled strands of hair out of her head and put his hands around her neck and strangled her until she passed out.
She then drifted in and out of consciousness during and after the attack and suffered facial fractures, including a broken nose and jaw, according to authorities. At one point when she came to, she ran to a neighbor's home for help with her two young daughters, then aged seven and four-month's old. She was taken to Norwalk Hospital for her injuries.
At one time, Farren was considered a hot commodity in the Republican Party. He had started his political career in the mid-1970s as campaign director for U.S. Rep. Ronald Sarasin of Connecticut and was a leader of the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce.
After he graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1982, his political connections landed him prominent positions with the U.S. Department of Commerce under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and later as deputy counsel in the White House under George W. Bush.
Between his assignments for the Bush administrations, Farren spent 15 years at Xerox, starting as a government affairs specialist in Washington in 1992 and becoming general counsel in 2003 when the company was headquartered in Stamford. He became George W. Bush's deputy White House counsel in 2007.•