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Friday, March 16 Police Reports

Judge: Jury's $28.6 million award stands

STAMFORD -- John Michael Farren will have to prove he was involuntarily committed to a Hartford psychiatric ward in December -- when a jury awarded his wife $28.6 million for the severe beating he gave her with a metal flashlight -- before a judge would consider overturning the judgment against him.

State Superior Judge Robert Genuario said Wednesday morning that he would hold a hearing in mid-May during which Farren, 60, can present witnesses to prove he was locked up at Hartford Hospital's Institute for Living on suicide watch and thus could not defend himself during the December civil trial, at which he was to act as his own defense attorney.

After about 20 witnesses were called to the stand by Mary Margaret Farren's attorneys during the weeklong trial that began Dec. 9, a jury of three men and three women took only 90 minutes to decide the case against John Farren and make the award.

Farren, who is also defending himself against criminal charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a child in the Jan. 6, 2010, assault on his wife, faces a maximum 70-year prison sentence if convicted on all counts.

Two weeks ago, a Stamford criminal judge ruled that Farren does not qualify for a public defender, a decision ending 10 months of legal limbo. He is scheduled to appear in criminal court on March 12, which would be his 54th court appearance since his arrest, court records say.

According to testimony during December's civil trial, Farren unexpectedly received divorce papers on Jan. 4, 2010, and tried to get his wife, a high-powered lawyer herself, to withdraw the action.

Mary Margaret Farren, who had given birth to their second daughter four months earlier, said she agreed to hold off on the divorce if the two would go to marriage counseling, but she refused to call her attorneys and stop the divorce action, according to court documents.

While John Farren, who worked for former President George W. Bush as a deputy White House counsel and before that as lead attorney for the Xerox Corp., at first tried to win over his wife on the matter, by the evening of Jan. 6, when the assault occurred he became angrier, court records state.

At the end of January as evidence was being heard by the jury, Farren filed a motion asking Genuario to open the judgment because he was incapacitated, even though he had spent the previous week helping pick jurors.

At the hearing Wednesday, attorney Paul Slager, who represented Mary Margaret Farren, 47, in the civil trial, told Genuario that Farren's "legal shenanigans" involved putting himself into the hospital to avoid having to defend himself at trial. Slager said Farren did so through a state statute that allowed him to be held for 15 days unless he wanted to be let out.

The basis for his admission, Slager said, were Farren's self-reported "suicidal ideations."

Slager then cited a judge's decision later in December, which said Farren should not be kept at the Institute for Living, that he had no psychiatric disabilities and was not a danger to himself or others.

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"Just look at these things," Slager pleaded to Genuario. "There is plenty there for your honor to use your discretion, when you view the history of this case; this is another way to avoid this judgment."

But while Farren admitted to putting himself in the hospital, he said it came as a surprise to him to find out that he couldn't get out.

"I was unable to leave the hospital. In fact, there was a lockdown in the psychiatric ward. You can't just walk out," Farren said.

He said staff there wanted to keep him in permanently, and he was only able to get out with the help of a probate judge.

John Nickerson|Police and court reporter