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Saturday, March 24 News

Judge rejects motions in New Canaan attempted murder case

STAMFORD -- Four years after the arrest of former White House counsel J. Michael Farren, a Stamford judge declared the attempted murder case is ready to go to trial without delay.

Near the end of an hourlong hearing Wednesday, state Superior Court Judge Richard Comerford denied the last motions filed by Farren -- one of which asked that his criminal charges be dropped -- and said he would assign a trial date on April 11.

"There will be no further delays," Comerford said of the case that began on the night of Jan. 6, 2010, when Farren allegedly tried to beat his wife to death with a metal Maglite flashlight in the bedroom of their New Canaan mansion. Farren, 60, who had been told two days before the beating that his wife wanted a divorce, was charged with attempted murder, and two counts of first-degree assault and risk of injury to a child. He faces up to 70 years in prison.

In December, after a weeklong civil trial, a jury awarded Mary Margaret Farren, 47, more than $28 million in damages from her former husband in response to the beating.

After taking over as his own attorney and picking the civil court jury, Farren did not show up at trial, later saying he was hospitalized in a Hartford mental institution. He has since asked the civil judge to set the award aside because he had been involuntarily committed.

In his biggest decision of the hearing, Comerford rejected a motion Farren filed in April 2013 to drop all the criminal charges against him.

As in the civil trial, Farren has dismissed his criminal defense attorney, Eugene Riccio, and is representing himself. Farren's legal skills have elicited grudging compliments from defense attorneys around the courthouse, who marvel at his ability to take advantage of every constitutional right to drag out the case. But those same attorneys say Farren is playing with fire and with each appeal or motion, his prison sentence may be piling up.

During Wednesday's hearing, Farren, who was freed in mid-2010 after posting $750,000 bond, said his constitutional rights were being trampled by prosecutors working with his former wife's attorneys.

With the civil jury taking only 90 minutes to award his wife the $28.6 million, many court watchers say they believe the state has a very strong case against Farren.

At one point in Wednesday's hearing, Farren appeared to be indignant that state prosecutors have pressed their case.

"I have been punished for 50 months of house arrest without the ability to get any experts, without the ability to make full use of experts, without being able to pay lawyers," Farren, a former Xerox general counsel, said loudly. "For 50 months, I have been in this situation precisely because of the type of collaboration that goes on, and my inability to have conversations with the state's attorneys, or with experts and not have them used against me in the civil matter, in the marital matter and used against me in this court."

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But Comerford called Farren's allegations "nonsense."

"There is simply no evidence that the alleged victim or her counsel have exercised any rights or exhibited undue influence so as to affect the defendant's due-process rights," said Comerford.

Farrenalso claimed he has been denied access to his sizable personal funds to obtain a lawyer to defend himself.

Comerford said Farren dismissed two competent attorneys in the civil and criminal cases.

"The court concludes that financial assertions he makes as a result of other court actions are first, contrary to fact, and second, do not rise to level of any kind of serious stated action that would affect his due-process rights in the current case," Comerford said. "The history of the case discloses that the defendant has never been denied counsel or access to funds for the purpose of consulting or obtaining or accessing expert opinion and testimony."

"Appeal after appeal has been taken by the court," the judge said. "The record is quite clear. The actions of the defendant have been such to delay the reasonable resolution of the case."

Comerford then gave Farren 30 days to come back to court with all medical and mental health reports that would have a bearing on his defense at trial.

"This case is now ready for trial," Comerford said.

John Nickerson|Police and court reporter