Professor Richard T. Farrell’s death on February 7 at age 80 brought to an end an eclectic and colorful life lived in law and legal education. He was Legal Brooklyn’s “Mr. Chips.”
A 1964 graduate of Brooklyn Law School (after attending St. John’s University in downtown Brooklyn with the likes of classmate Joe Hynes), Richard “Dick” Farrell was an outstanding law student and legal writer.
A clearly transformative event was his designation to serve as a law clerk to New York Court of Appeals Judge John Scileppi of Queens. Service on the Court of Appeals back in the 60s was far different from the comparatively “country club” days now. Rather, the regimen, he explained, was “two weeks up [in Albany], three weeks down [in home chambers],” five days of seven appeals per day. Thinking clearly, writing well and meeting your judge’s philosophical view were the key requirements.
Professor Farrell was a true expert on New York Civil Procedure (C.P.L.R.) and state law evidence. As opposed to modern academics, he frequently appeared as appellate counsel in both civil and criminal appeals in the Appellate Division, First and Second departments.
I worked on a coram nobis appeal on behalf of an indigent client to the Third Department while a third year law student (People v. Raymond Wright, 27 N.Y. 2d 651 ). His reason was perceived unfairness. Dick Farrell was Brooklyn to his core—he had no trappings of a Manhattan “Limousine Liberal.” What you saw was what you got, no pretense or phoniness.
When we were in our final law school year, he argued Morales v. New York, 396 U.S. 102 , as court appointed counsel. This followed the affirmance of Morales’ conviction in the New York Court of Appeals, 22 N.Y. 2d 55 ). The “Dunaway” case can be traced back to the ground he broke on Morales’ behalf, started in Abe Gelfand’s Bronx courtroom.
In late April 1973, when I was a young assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, Professor Farrell and I squared off in People v. Washington, 32 NY 2d 401 . Although the People prevailed, Chief Judge Stanley Fuld dissented in a principled opinion. Professor Farrell was a vigorous and respected advocate in the very courts in which he had previously served as a law clerk.
Years later, he appeared before the Court of Appeals in Matter of Corbin v. Hillery, 74 N.Y. 2d 279, and convinced the majority, in an opinion by the late Judge Vito J. Titoe, to hold that a guilty plea protected the defendant on double jeopardy grounds from a prosecution for a vehicular homicide. The case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 , he again emerged constitutionally triumphant.
Professor Farrell could be somewhat theatrical while lecturing in his classroom, but sought to spark a “love of legal learning.” To this end, he gave each of his students a “lifetime guarantee” of free legal consultation, 24/7. No one, I note, ever complained to the Department of Consumer Affairs!
When he was not prowling the Brooklyn Law School classrooms and halls, he was either working in the law library or drinking coffee and “schmoozing” with his students. Farrell’s “Army of Admirers” was long, deep, and committed.
Following Dean Jerome Prince’s death, he took over authorship of “Prince on Evidence.” No long-winded treatise, it was the succinct “Cliffs Notes” of New York evidence trial practice, the “go to” source for a quick and definitive answer to evidentiary questions. He was working on his final edition when a higher authority intervened, and he was “remanded to a better place.”
As I look back on this iconic law professor, it is with a powerful sense that he was, as Lou Gehrig noted that hot afternoon in Yankee Stadium up in the Bronx when retiring due to illness, undoubtedly the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Dick Farrell lived an active life doing what he did best—teaching lawyers. He did it with both skill, and flair. For “Legal Brooklyn,” we pause to say au revoir to our own “Mr. Chips.” See you on the other side.
Roger Bennet Adler graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1970 and practices in Manhattan.