Attorney J. Michael Farren, 57, of New Canaan, Conn, is on trial for trying to murder his wife. (Kerry Sherck)
A former White House counsel charged with trying to kill his wife in Connecticut has lost a legal fight over whether he can use a mental health defense at his trial.
The state Appellate Court has rejected John Michael Farren‘s appeals of rulings by Stamford Superior Court Judge Richard Comerford, who told Farren on May 1 that he couldn’t use a mental health defense. Farren’s appeals were dismissed Wednesday.
Comerford is expected to decide next week when jury selection can begin. It was supposed to start next Tuesda
Farren is accused of trying to kill his wife in their New Canaan mansion in 2010.
The case is already promising to be far from ordinary. For one thing, the former Bush administration counsel, is representing himself.
In early May, Judge Comerford told Farren that he cannot use an insanity defense. The judge warned Farren that he would not allow him to make a mockery of the justice system by using “delaying tactics.”
The judge’s ruling came after Farren refused to sign a consent form just before he was scheduled to undergo a court-ordered mental evaluation. Comerford said it was beyond comprehension that after 22 years of practicing law, Farren would think he could refuse to sign the consent form for the exam.
Farren had previously said he planned an insanity defense in the state’s case against him for allegedly attacking Mary Farren, who informed him she was filing for divorce. She had told him they couldn’t work out their marital problems because of his temper.
Criminal defense lawyers interviewed about the case said J. Michael Farren’s resume distinquished him among other defendants facing attempted murder charges.
“Mr. Farren is not the usual pro se defendant; given his education and professional achievements,” said Bethel criminal defense lawyer, Dennis McDonough. “Given his history of the past few years, however, it seems he has suffered some form of psychological breakdown. His actions seem too highly self-destructive, I, personally, think the court could force an evaluation by a court ordered psychiatrist.”
McDonough also said the case is distinquished in another way. He said it’s “highly unusual” that a civil case Farren’s ex-wife brought against Farren was resolved before the criminal case.
“It’s unusual because usually the civil case is resolved first,” added criminal defense lawyer, James J. Ruane, of Shelton. “If you were deposed in a civil case, statements could be used against you, which is why the civil case takes a back seat.”
“That’s the rationale behind the civil case going second and the criminal going first,” Ruane said.
Ruane said if Farren, in his civil case, talked about his mental state or whether he committed the crime, those topics could be used against him. Otherwise, the civil case would have no relevance.
In Farren’s case, he doesn’t have to worry whether any statements in his civil case will be used against him because he was not present for the evidence portion of the case.
The night before evidence was set to start in December of 2013, he sent an email to the courthouse, saying he was in the hospital. Farren had initially appeared in court for his civil case, ready to defend himself, and was described by the opposing lawyer as a “skilled lawyer.”
But when he didn’t show up, the civil trial went on without him and the jury awarded his ex-wife $28.6 million in damages. His former wife was a former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
The Farrens had been married since May 1997 after meeting in Washington, D.C.
After the attack, Mary Farren told authorities that her husband grabbed her throat and tackled her before banging her head against the floor. She then said that he beat her and threw her across the room. Then, he beat her with a heavy metal flashlight, she said.
She was eventually able to get her children into a car and leave, and was found bleeding outside the front door of a nearby home.
Meanwhile, his criminal case has been on the docket 51 times. Farren fired his lawyers in 2013 because he wanted to represent himself, and was appointed stand-by counsel. Then, he claimed he was indigent and asked for a public defender.
He was denied the services of a public defender and then appealed that denial. In February, the judge ruled that he did not qualify because he did not meet the income requirements.
Criminal defense lawyer Morgan Rueckert, of Shipman & Goodwin, who is also a member-at-large of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association, said the fact that there is a civil verdict should not be a factor in the case.
“Where civil cases are pending, the implicit financial motive that the suit creates for the victim is often an effective impeachment tool,” Rueckert said. “But the fact that a civil jury found the defendant liable under a civil burden of proof is not relevant to the criminal jury’s determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “
Web Editor Karen Ali contributed to this story.