CHRISTIAN NOLAN, The Connecticut Law Tribune — A former White House lawyer who was criminally convicted of brutally beating his former wife in Connecticut in 2010 and also ordered to pay a $28.6 million civil verdict is planning to continue his appeals in an effort to get a new civil trial.
John Michael Farren, a White House counsel for former President George W. Bush, had argued on appeal that he was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility during the first civil trial in 2013, and that his absence from the courtroom deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial.
In an interview with the Law Tribune, Farren’s lawyer, Ryan McKeen, of the McKeen Law Firm in Glastonbury, said he plans to file a motion with the state Appellate Court seeking an en banc review of the case. If that motion is denied, he will then file a petition asking the state Supreme Court to take up the matter.
“We think Connecticut courts should encourage those with acute psychiatric needs to seek treatment and further encourage hospitals to admit those folks without fear of incurring additional civil liability,” said McKeen.
Last month, the Appellate Court ruled that Farren, who lived in New Canaan, failed to provide proof of his involuntary commitment. Farren had provided a certificate saying he was involuntarily committed at the time of the trial but did not provide any further documentation. Had his doctor testified as to the need for the commitment, the Appellate Court opined, the judge may have delayed the trial.
McKeen argues that only reasonable cause need be shown for a civil trial to be delayed in such circumstances, “and we believe that being physically restrained against his will constitutes reasonable cause.
“When somebody’s involuntarily committed they are locked away, put in a room and that door is locked and secured,” said McKeen. “They can be physically restrained from leaving, drugged against their will, tied to a bed. … We think that’s very telling, instructive as to how the court should have ruled in this case.”
Since Farren’s 2014 criminal conviction, he’s been housed at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, where defendants who need psychiatric treatment are typically placed. McKeen said Farren’s civil case had been pending for less than three years at the time of trial.
“It’s not a case that was languishing on the docket for five or six years,” said McKeen. “Given the complexities of this case and the claims being made and defended, I don’t think that’s very long. During trial, the judge wrestled with whether to mistry the case knowing that he was unavailable.”
Farren, who also had served as a high-ranking U.S. Commerce Department official and as general counsel of Norwalk-based Xerox Corp., beat his wife in 2010, two days after she had served him with divorce papers. Mary Farren told police he hit her with a metal flashlight, pulled hair out of her head and strangled her until she passed out. She suffered brain injuries and facial fractures, including a broken jaw.
Farren’s charges included attempted murder. He’s serving a 15-year sentence.
Farren represented himself during the civil litigation, and had appeared at a number of pretrial hearings. It wasn’t until the appeal process began that he hired counsel.
One of Mary Farren’s lawyers, Ernest Teitell, of Silver Golub & Teitell in Stamford, accused the ex-husband of trying to manipulate and delay proceedings by claiming he was involuntarily committed and then not providing any documentation to support it. “We thought he was playing games with the system,” Teitell recently told the Law Tribune.
On Dec. 8, 2013, the day before the actual trial was to begin, Farren was suicidal, his attorneys claim. Before he was admitted to Hartford Hospital’s Institute for Living and cut off from communication, McKeen said Farren sent an email to the court stating he was receiving treatment and that travel to Stamford for trial the next morning would be impossible.
The next morning a court officer replied to the email, advising Farren to send a letter from his treating physician that included the reason for the hospitalization and how long he expected it to last. Even after a court recess, Farren had not replied. In court documents, Farren claimed he did not receive communications while at the hospital.
Mary Farren’s lawyers requested a default judgment. Superior Court Judge Robert Genuario considered the motion overnight and the next day granted it, offering these reasons: the case had already been continued multiple times; the jury had been selected; and the trial court had given the defendant an opportunity to provide medical documentation to avoid the default ruling. The case then continued as a hearing on damages.
Teitell, who previously called Farren’s tactics before trial “gamesmanship,” responded to the news of further challenges from Farren on the verdict.
“We believe our Appellate Court clearly and definitely addressed all of the issues,” said Teitell. “The defendant Farren may choose to seek additional review by the Appellate Court or the Supreme Court and we intend to vigorously oppose any additional delay in bringing this drawn-out matter to a close.”