Farren will lead his insanity defense
Published 12:36 pm, Saturday, April 13, 2013
Former White House attorney John Michael Farren prevailed in his effort to act as his own defense attorney, while also opening the door to cross-examining his former wife, whom Farren is accused of trying to murder in their New Canaan mansion more than three years ago.
Farren appeared Friday afternoon at state Superior Court in Stamford before Judge Richard Comerford, who said he was satisfied that Farren was unwavering in his willingness to lead his own defense.
At a Wednesday hearing, Farren requested to be allowed to take over his own defense, but appeared to hedge when he told Comerford that because of his lack of courtroom experience, he would not hire an attorney such as himself to take his case to trial.
But on Friday, Farren did not equivocate and Comerford allowed him to take the reins of his own defense while keeping attorneys Eugene Riccio and Timothy Moynahan on as stand-by counsel. The irony that Farren was granted permission to lead an insanity defense on his own behalf did not seep into discussions and arguments that took place for about 30 minutes in the fourth-floor courtroom. No trial date has been set.
Bridling against the judge's decision to keep his attorneys on board, Farren said at the hearing he intends to sue Moynahan for malpractice stemming from a civil case against his ex-wife and vowed he would not use either attorney in his own defense.
Farren, however, expressed interest in using the court's Supervisory Assistant Public Defender Barry Butler as standby counsel.
But after reviewing 210 pieces of financial material provided by Farren over the past two days, Butler told Comerford Farren did not qualify as indigent and therefore could not be represented by his office.
At one point in the hearing while discussing the next steps in the case, Farren turned to State's Attorney David Cohen, the court's chief prosecutor, and made a stab at humor by remarking that he too would make a valuable standby counsel.
Without missing a beat, Cohen shrugged off the suggestion by holding his arms out with palms out and saying with a laugh, "Don't bet on it."
Farren said he has contacted at least one other law firm in hopes of obtaining counsel, but his lack of money was at issue.
Facing charges of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor, Farren, 60, faces a maximum of 70 years in prison if convicted on all counts at trial.
New Canaan police said Farren, a lawyer for both Bush presidential administrations, was arrested for attacking his then-wife with a metal flashlight and breaking her jaw 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 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 ex-wife for $30 million, and a prejudgement attachment of $4.1 million was granted, effectively freezing his assets.
Farren has also served as Xerox general counsel and worked for the company for 15 years.
He and standby counsel are to meet with Comerford on April 23 in order to discuss the progress of with psychiatrists and psychologists in completing his mental evaluation that he will hope to use in proving his insanity defense.
Greenwich attorney Mickey Sherman said the possibility that Farren could be questioning his own wife brought the case of Long Island Railroad killer Colin Ferguson to mind. Ferguson defended himself in his 1995 trial and during cross-examinations, elicited a number of damning answers from witnesses, including the much-publicized, "I saw you shoot me."
"That's what you run into," Sherman said. "Sure, you have the constitutional right to defend yourself, but generally that means you are getting the best seat on the Titanic. It's an inevitable disaster."
But Sherman also said Farren's case might be so hopeless that a jury might just feel sorry for him.
"In the long run, people like me look at this kind of situation as an extended early sentencing," Sherman said.