At one point, Waterbury native John Michael Farren was considered a hot commodity in the Republican Party. He had started his political career in the mid-1970s as campaign director for U.S. Rep. Ronald Sarasin of Connecticut and was a leader of the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce.
After he graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1982, his political connections landed him prominent positions with the U.S. Department of Commerce under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and later as deputy counsel in the White House under George W. Bush.
"He was a pretty big player, and no question he was a rising star," said a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist who said he hasn't spoken with Farren in about five years. "Not so much for elected office, but as more of a policy guy. He didn't have the base here [in Connecticut] other than he knew the players from his Chamber of Commerce days."
The lobbyist added that these days, "most people would have no idea of who Mike Farren is unless they were around in the 1980s."
That might explain why many lawyers and politicians in Connecticut said they hadn't heard of Farren, 57, before he was arrested on attempted murder charges last week after allegedly strangling and beating his wife in their New Canaan home.
He was arraigned on Thursday and bail was set at $2 million. His case has been transferred to the Part A criminal docket in Stamford and Farren is to appear in Superior Court on Jan. 21. He also has been placed on suicide watch.
Between his assignments for the Bush administrations, Farren spent 15 years at Xerox, starting as a government affairs specialist in Washington in 1992 and becoming general counsel in 2003 when the company was headquartered in Stamford. He became George W. Bush's deputy White House counsel in 2007.
But since leaving that position, which was paying him $158,500 as of July 2008, he doesn't seem to have landed a high-profile job that often awaits lawyers who have climbed the ranks in Washington. He and Mary M. Farren own a 4,300-square-foot home in New Canaan worth $4.8 million, according to the Stamford Advocate.
Mary Farren is of counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., where her practice focuses on energy regulation and litigation. Both Farrens are licensed to practice law in Connecticut, among other jurisdictions. State disciplinary officials started the process of suspending John Michael Farren's license last week.
The couple has two daughters, one 7 years old and the other four months. Mary Farren told New Canaan police that she had served divorce papers on her husband last Monday, two days before she was allegedly attacked.
"This is a tragic and very unfortunate situation," said Bridgeport attorney Eugene Riccio of Bridgeport, who is representing John Michael Farren.
'Pretty Big Fall'
There could be more than just stress and anxiety at home.
Farren gave up his post as deputy White House counsel about a year ago, around the time that the Bush administration left office. Another high-profile Connecticut Republican who after had served in the Bush administration, former U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor, landed a partnership at the Hartford office of Bracewell & Giuliani.
But it doesn't appear that Farren landed the same sort of BigLaw position. His LinkedIn biography describes him as an "independent legal services professional" in the New York City area.
A lawyer who knew Farren from the few months that Farren spent at the New Haven firm of Wiggin and Dana in the late 1980s -- just before he landed the plum job as under secretary for international trade in the U.S. Commerce Department -- noted that the job market certainly isn't robust for some Republican lawyers.
"It's a tough time for lawyers and particularly not a good time for Republicans who are out of office, unless they have a think tank to support them," the lawyer said. "It seems like a pretty big fall from being general counsel at Xerox and the number two at the Department of Commerce."
Farren also seems to have made some enemies within the Republican Party during his time in Washington. Though he served as deputy campaign manager for the George H.W. Bush's re-election campaign, he also left the Department of Commerce in 1992 for what one presidential aide described as "deliberately trying to manufacture unnecessary political controversies," according to a 1992 story in the Legal Times, sister publication of the Law Tribune.
Apparently, according to the story, Farren had angered some Republicans and corporate backers for taking a tough stance on foreign companies that violated laws by selling imported products at below-market rates. "He has a prickly nature, is hot-tempered and stubborn," one Washington lawyer told the Legal Times.
But Farren's professional background did leave him with some cachet.
Last spring, Farren participated in panel discussions hosted by Day Pitney in New Jersey regarding government investigations of companies. Farren also participated in the American Bar Association's fall meeting of the Business Law Section on behalf of the Aspen Institute. There, he discussed the need for public policies that reward long-term investment strategies rather than short-term approaches that the Aspen Institute believes are destroying financial markets.
Farren also joined investment gurus Warren Buffett and John Bogle among 28 people who signed a declaration espousing the long-term investment approach.
For both events, Farren is described as the former general counsel for Xerox and former deputy White House counsel.
People who knew Farren from his time in Connecticut said they never saw any sign of the behavior that led to the attempted murder charges last week.
"He was outwardly a very smooth and polished guy and pleasant to be around," said the lawyer who knew Farren from his New Haven days.
The former Washington lobbyist who had business dealings with Farren when he was with Xerox said, "I am shocked. I don't remember a guy with a temper. Never did I see an indication of behavior like that.
"He has the reputation of being a friendly, highly respected guy with a very successful career in government and business. Obviously, something went terribly wrong."
The Farrens were married in May 1997 after meeting in Washington, D.C., where Mary had been an associate at Steptoe & Johnson. Both graduated from UConn's law school; Mary, whose family is from Pennsylvania, earned her law degree in 1994.
But somewhere along the way the marriage started to dissolve. Mary told New Canaan police that Michael Farren attacked her after she told him they couldn't work out their marital problems because of Michael Farren's temper.
That's when Michael Farren allegedly began pulling out Mary's hair, beating her with a metal flashlight and strangling her. Mary reportedly drifted in and out of consciousness during the attack but at some point, triggered a house alarm that notified police.
Michael Farren threatened to slit his wrists with a knife, according to the police report. Mary then escaped with the couple's two daughters in a car and drove to the first house with lights on.
Mary was hospitalized last week with a broken jaw and other facial fractures.
Police said Michael Farren requested medical help foe arm cuts and a neck abrasion. Police said he had marks around his neck from what appeared to be a leather belt.
"This report is sad and stunning," said Fred Fielding, who is Farren's former boss in the White House counsel office, "and completely out of character to anyone who knows or has worked with Mike."
This story includes information from the Associated Press.