Former White House attorney John Michael Farren asked a Stamford judge Wednesday if he could represent himself in an insanity defense on charges of trying to kill his wife with a metal flashlight in their New Canaan mansion just over three years ago.
Farren, 60, told Judge Richard Comerford that the reason he wanted to take over his own defense was that the relationship between him and his defense attorneys Eugene Riccio and Timothy Moynahan had broken down. He said the relationship has turned "hostile" and that he did not believe the two veteran defense attorneys -- with more than 85 years of legal experience between them -- could render effective counsel.
Prior to the hour-long hearing at the Stamford courthouse, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Richard Colangelo filed a change in the charges against Farren that could add 30 years to his sentence if convicted on all counts.
When he was first arrested on Jan. 6, 2010, Farren was charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault and first-degree strangulation. Colangelo kept in place the attempted-murder charge with a maximum 20-year sentence and the assault charge, which also carries a maximum 20-year sentence. But he jettisoned first-degree strangulation, while adding charges of first-degree assault and risk of injury to a child, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence.
Authorities said Farren, a lawyer for both Bush administrations, was arrested for attacking his then-wife with a large metal flashlight and breaking her jaw and bones in her face on Jan. 6, 2010, the day after she served him with divorce papers seeking to end their 12-year marriage.
Mary Margaret Farren, an attorney with a major Washington, D.C., firm, escaped the couple's $4 million estate after pushing the panic alarm and driving to a nearby house with her two young daughters, police said.
In court, Comerford warned Farren that he risked a 70-year jail sentence or an equal period of commitment to a mental hospital if he brought the case to trial and lost.
Farren said he understood the risks and wanted to proceed. Under questioning by the judge, Farren acknowledged that even though he was a lawyer, he has never defended anyone either in criminal or civil court.
When asked if he thought he would be able to learn the ins and outs of criminal law, he said he could.
However, Farren also told Comerford that he would not be the type of attorney he would ask to represent him in these matters. "I don't think I have any choice," Farren said.
Comerford said he did not like that answer.
"He is saying to me I want to represent myself by filing an appearance pro se. But on the other hand he says, `I wouldn't represent myself in this matter and I would really like to be represented by counsel,' " Comerford said. "When I ask you if you want to represent yourself or not, I do not want to hear `neither' because `neither' would be a qualification. If there is any ambiguity in your response to me in regard to that question, I will not allow you to represent yourself."
Comerford said they would return to court Friday to continue the hearing and possibly reach a decision on the matter.
During the hearing, Farren asked whether he qualified for a public defender, so Comerford called a 20-minute break for him to meet with Supervisory Assistant Public Defender Barry Butler.
In earlier motions to the court, Farren has insisted that even though before his arrest he and his wife were worth millions, all of the money has been tied up in civil and family court, and he is indigent. Farren is being sued by his former wife for $30 million, and a prejudgement attachment of $4.1 million was granted effectively freezing his assets.
As well as working for both Bush administrations, Farren served as Xerox general counsel and worked for the company for 15 years.
Farren was able, however, to free about $20,000 from his assets about two months ago to hire a psychiatrist who would give him a mental evaluation to be used in his defense. Farren said Wednesday that the evaluation has not been completed.