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Ex-White House lawyer barred from insanity defense

Published 6:34 pm, Friday, May 2, 2014
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STAMFORD -- After one delay too many, a Stamford judge ruled Thursday that J. Michael Farren cannot employ a mental state defense in his upcoming trial for the 2010 attempted murder of his wife inside their New Canaan mansion.

Judge Richard Comerford told the former White House counsel that he would not allow him to make what he characterized as a Farren's making a mockery of the judicial system with extensive delay tactics, and vowed that Farren's trial would go forward in June as scheduled and that he would be barred from claiming any insanity defense at trial.

Farren, 61, rose in his chair and said, "I'm shocked by your decision and I'm shocked by your characterization. This is absolutely unjust." Farren then said he would appeal Comerford's decision to a higher court. He is representing himself and had said in earlier proceedings that he planned some type of insanity defense.

The ruling came after Farren refused to sign a common consent form late Tuesday afternoon just before he was to undergo a mental evaluation by a well-known Stamford psychiatrist, which had been called for by prosecutors and ordered by Comerford.

Comerford said it was "quite clear" to him that Farren's intentions were to stall any actions by the court leading to his trial, and that it was beyond comprehension that 22 years of practicing law, that Farren would not expect to sign the authorization form at the start of the examination.

The judge said he said he would not allow "anyone to make a joke out of the judicial system," and that he had no doubt that was Farren's goal.

"We are done playing games with the system," said Comerford, before he prohibited Farren from putting on a mental status defense at trial.

Farren, who worked for former President George W. Bush as a deputy White House counsel and before that as lead attorney for Xerox, launched his near-fatal attack on his wife on Jan. 6, 2010, only two days after his wife served him with divorce papers. Mary Margaret Farren testified in her civil case against Michael Farren that he beat her repeatedly with a metal flashlight and his fists, and strangled her in the bedroom of their $4 million dollar home on Wahackme Road. After briefly losing consciousness, Mrs. Farren was able to flee the home with her two young children and get to a neighbor's house, where she collapsed in a pool of blood.

In December, Mary Margaret Farren won a $28 million judgment against her former husband for the injuries she suffered in the attack. Farren, who was defending himself in that case, is trying to get the jury award overturned because he said he was unable to attend any of the trial. He claims he was involuntarily committed to a Hartford mental hospital a day before the civil trial began.

In court Thursday, Farren said he had refused to sign the order for a psychiatric evaluation because was concerned it would infringe on his rights as a defendant at trial. He then said he was willing to go forward with the three-hour examination, but not if he had to sign the consent form, and the psychiatrist won't proceed without the consent form being signed.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Richard Colangelo, who is prosecuting the case with State's Attorney David Cohen, said that without Farren's signature on the consent form, there was a very real legal question as to whether the examination or the psychiatrist's testimony could be heard at trial.

With Tuesday's mental examination scuttled, Cohen filed a motion the next day asking Comerford to hold Farren in contempt and preclude him from raising any defense based on his mental status or present any expert testimony concerning his mental status at the time of the attack on his wife.

In his court filing in response to Cohen's motion, Farren argued that not allowing him a mental defense would be "completely unjustified by the facts and calls for a drastic, punitive and draconian action by the court that would be prejudicial to justice, punitive and unfair in the extreme."

At Thursday's hearing, Cohen argued that the psychiatrist, Dr. Justin Schechter, has done numerous examinations of defendants over the years and Farren was the very first to ever refuse to sign the form. And Cohen said that if the signed form presented any kind of infringement of his constitutional rights, Farren could come into court and file motions to remedy those concerns.

Cohen called this latest wrinkle in the case, "just another delay" orchestrated by Farren.

"He doesn't get the right to set the ground rules. Our expert gets to set the ground rules... He doesn't get to decide that," Cohen said.

Cohen said the judge had every right to preclude a mental status defense. "Every action he has been doing is contemptuous of this court's orders. He has been doing everything he can do to delay, to get around, not to cooperate with what has gone by and those are the facts before the court."

Comerford said he would not grant Cohen's motion to hold Farren in contempt of court. He ordered that by May 8, Farren and Cohen turn in a list of witnesses that will be called to the stand at trial.

He also said jury selection will go on as scheduled for May 27. The first day of testimony in the trial is scheduled to begin June 17.