Friday, November 19, 1999
Police shun ex-con's firm
Lawyer's rehire angers union
BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati's police union vowed Thursday it will not do business with the law firm that employs an attorney who once went to prison for the murder of a police officer.
The decision by the Fraternal Order of Police came hours after the attorney, Derek Anthony Farmer, was rehired by Kenneth Lawson's Cincinnati law firm.
FOP President Keith Fangman said the city's 1,000 police officers will refuse to ac cept any plea bargain or settlement involving the firm's clients.
There will be no accommodations made, Mr. Fangman said. We're going to take every case to trial.
Mr. Lawson said the move will not intimidate him, his clients or his employees.
Tell them to come on with it, Mr. Lawson said of the FOP's decision. It's fine with me. Anybody who comes in here knows they've got to be ready to fight.
Plea bargains, in which defendants plead guilty to lesser charges, are important because they resolve dozens of cases every day without the time and expense of a trial.
The FOP's refusal to accept them could shake up the court system because judges routinely ask whether the arresting officers agree with the plea bargain.
But it will not prevent prosecutors from pursuing deals over the objections of police.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said he shares the union's disgust over the hiring of Mr. Farmer, but that he doubts he will be able to comply with the FOP's wishes.
The plea bargain is a necessary evil, Mr. Allen said. You can't single out one attorney and one law firm and refuse to give them pleas that you would give someone else.
Mr. Allen said he understands why police are so upset about Mr. Farmer, who was convicted in 1974 of aiding and abetting the shooting deaths of a Dayton police officer and a civil rights activist.
The shootings occurred as Mr. Farmer, then 16, fled after robbing a jewelry store in Dayton with his 18-year-old nephew, Calvin Farmer.
At his trial, the judge said Derek Farmer did not fire the shots. He was paroled in 1992 and graduated from law school this year.
It is absolutely preposterous to expect police officers to deal with an attorney who was convicted in the death of a police officer, Mr. Allen said.
The uproar over Mr. Farmer began this week after he was sworn in as an attorney.
Police, prosecutors and some judges were outraged that he was even allowed to take the bar exam.
Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman has said he will not hear any cases involving Mr. Farmer because he is so angry he could not be fair to him.
Mr. Farmer became the first convicted murderer in the state to receive his law license after a review panel of the Ohio Supreme Court approved him.
The panel concluded that Mr. Farmer had dramatically changed his life since he entered prison, citing letters of recommendation from several judges, attorneys and law professors.
Critics like Mr. Fangman, however, complain that the decision lowers the standards for all attorneys and is a slap in the face to police.
Mr. Fangman said he was particularly incensed that Mr. Lawson would rehire Mr. Farmer just two days after he voluntarily left the firm.
He said the FOP wants to send a clear message by refusing to discuss plea deals with anyone associated with Mr. Lawson's firm. Mr. Farmer has not handled a trial so it's unclear how successful the FOP effort will be.
We will not accept any, and I mean any, request for plea bargains, Mr. Fangman said. It's a shame that Ken Lawson's clients have to suffer for his reckless behavior.
Mr. Fangman was adamant that police officers could not be forced to accept any plea deal. Mr. Allen, however, said a blanket ban on deals with one firm cannot be done.
He said he will try to accommodate police, but not if it means rejecting every deal.
Mr. Lawson would not say how many cases he handles each week, or how many of those end with a plea deal.
But he said he is prepared to take the cases to trial if necessary.
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