of the Month - Jerry Farmer, Prosecuting Attorney
- Part I
Jerry Farmer practiced law for thirty years during
some of the most interesting times in our nation's
history. He tried misdemeanor cases for two years
before prosecuting felons for robbery, rape, murder,
you name it. Having loved the Bible for as long
as he can remember, Jerry turned to it continually.
Here are a few of the stories he shared during
our interview. Jerry explains how the Bible helped
him as he made decisions throughout his career,
rode with the police, stood for principle, and
tried murder cases.
SCHOOL OR JOB? -- NOT MY WAY, BUT THINE
I had decided to get my MBA from the University
of Michigan at the same time I was getting my
law degree from the Michigan Law School. I was
planning on going into corporate law so I took
only one class in criminal law. But God had something
different planned for me.
The first big question arose when I graduated
from law school. I still needed one more class
to get my MBA, but I had two immediate job offers
in law -- one in Atlanta and one in California.
Michigan wouldn't let me graduate with an MBA
unless I took a statistics class on campus. So
my wife and I prayed about what I should do. The
story of Moses really helped us. Moses was saved
as a child, and then he saved his people. God
directed and supported Moses the entire way. We
felt comfortable that we would be told what to
do. My wife got a new job, which was progress
in her teaching career, so it made sense for me
to stay, take the class, and get my MBA. I went
around to law offices looking for work. One man
guaranteed that he could get me enough work to
help pay the rent. So, at his suggestion, I signed
up for criminal cases and started doing defense
work. While I asked for more cases because they
provided more money, I really didn't like defending
Five words that I had learned in Sunday School
steadied my wife and me. Each morning we'd wake
up with, "Not my way, but Thine" (from
Luke 22:42). We'd help each other understand how
we could do God's work, not our own.
CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
One day the City Attorney called me to say that
this was the last day he would hold a job for
me. He convinced me to take the job by promising
that I wouldn't have to do any more criminal work.
He knew I wanted to go into corporate law. He
apologized to me my first day on the job because
everyone who could work on criminal cases was
gone, so I was assigned the criminal cases.
This time I was representing the individual,
the city, and the police in misdemeanor cases
-- assault and batteries, drunk driving, petty
theft, vandalism. For every criminal case, there
is a police officer or a detective who sits by
the prosecutor and gets the information (pictures,
interviews, etc.) for the prosecutor. I liked
the detective I was working with, and I found
that I also liked the work. So I asked my boss
if I could try more cases and be able to work
with that detective. He sure was surprised.
Riding with the police
At that point, I started riding with police officers
myself. I'd come home and have dinner with my
wife, spend time with her, and then go out and
ride with the police until 2:00 a.m. I would go
on all the warrants. I became the city attorney
for the police department, and I became one of
the first, if not the first, attorneys in the
U.S, who had his office down by the chief of police.
This innovative idea really helped me move up.
I worked hard because I loved the work.
ANOTHER CROSSROAD -- TRUSTING IN GOD'S PROVISIONS
There was a change in the city council after an
election, and the first thing the mayor did was
put a new boss in the City Attorney's Office.
He didn't like the idea of an attorney being in
the police department and said he was going to
put me in charge of sewer contracts. Another individual
had been asking me to come work for him in the
Prosecutor's Office ever since I graduated from
law school. At that time, no one wanted to be
in the Prosecutor's Office because you didn't
get paid very much. I would lose a lot of money
if I took that job.
Again I prayed. Proverbs is probably my favorite
book because I feel that God is talking to me.
Some of the purposes of the proverbs are to help
us understand wisdom, instruction, justice, and
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive
the words of understanding; To receive the instruction
of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young
man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will
hear, and will increase learning; and a man
of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.
My wife, Carolyn, and I talked about what the
proverbs meant. Another proverb showed me where
I had to put my trust:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and
lean not unto thine own understanding. In all
thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct
thy paths. Prov. 3:5, 6
Working together during civil unrest
Carolyn and I decided it was time to leave. But
my future boss persisted. We had worked together
during the Vietnam era when Michigan was a hotbed
of demonstrations. It was the height of hippiedom:
women would take off their tops in parks and dance
around, daring the police to arrest them. It reminded
me of Sodom and Gomorrah. People would throw rocks
and fling typewriters out of buildings. A police
officer with whom I was talking was knocked out
by a metal ball-bearing from a sling shot. Gas
and dogs were used to subdue the violent crowds.
Because my future boss had seen me work and worked
with me when the County and City Attorney officers
met to discuss cases during this time, he told
me he would make an exception this once and start
me at a higher pay than normal. This ended up
being the best move I could've made. I went in
as a first assistant, which also didn't usually
happen. Everyone was good to me.
THE PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE (AT THE COUNTY)
Because I was a known commodity to the police,
they would come to me when they had a case. So
I ended up charging many people, including felons
charged with murder, rape, robbery -- you name
it. This gave me another opportunity to sit back
and pray. Again, Proverbs helped me:
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride,
and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward
mouth, do I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound
wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.
Prov. 8:13, 14
Providing strength and principle for all
Hating evil is what the prosecutor, who represents
the victim, does. The prosecutor stands out alone
representing the neglected child, the abused wife,
those who are in poor situations. A lot of time
the defendants think they have a right to do the
things they do; they're very arrogant. So it feels
very good to be a prosecutor standing up for principle.
"Sound wisdom" goes hand in hand with
principle and law. The word "counsel"
is also in the proverb. Another name for an attorney
is "counsel." I felt that God was providing
the proper counsel for the victims to help them
"have strength." Strength means so many
things -- not just muscles. The victims could
stand tall, have conviction in their innocence,
and have the strength to proceed. Victims of abuse
especially needed God's strength. People were
often fearful about appearing in court. In many
cases, the victims were not always clean-cut themselves.
I knew how vital it was that everyone be accorded
the same rights. A prostitute can be raped, too.
Just because someone does something immoral or
illegal doesn't mean that he or she can be taken
advantage of or abused. We watched out for people
like that. They were very difficult cases because
the character of the victims would come into question.
The standard defense would be, "I just didn't
pay her, so she made this charge against me."
We wanted to be sure we did the right thing, and
this took a lot of understanding and wisdom.
No fear in the courtroom with love and principle
Because I was now going to trial in addition to
charging people, it was really important for me
not to do anything wrong or make a mistake. I
had to deal with the fear that I could make a
mistake in how I prepared the case, or how I thought
the defense counsel would attack the victim, or
that I would get a judge without a backbone. One
of the ideas that helped me was from Paul:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony
of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be
thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel
according to the power of God. II. Tim. 1:7,
I just love Paul and his letters. He is the epitome
of Christliness, and he never slowed down, despite
the fact he was thrown into prison, beaten to
death, bitten by a viper, and much more. Paul
is not just talking about power, but also about
love. I really worked to love both the victim
and the defendant, even though it was sometimes
hard to do. You have to love the hell out of the
defendant in a way. I knew that principle and
love were the basis for law. We love the law because
the law is there to protect us; laws based upon
the Ten Commandments are good laws.
I was very fortunate to be working with a boss
who valued principle. My boss always said that
we treat everyone the same. That's one of the
reasons I went to work with him. When the son
of one of his good friends who had much political
clout was found stealing something from a department
store, my boss told the officers to handle it
just like any other case. The only difference
was that he wanted to call the father and have
the father turn in the son. Often it's much easier
not to charge someone, especially when the newspapers
are jumping on you or politicians are applying
pressure; but if you don't charge someone for
a crime he or she committed, there's no principle
Murder trial that went to the Supreme Court
This period of time was the height of my trial
work. I had one particular case that was a horrible
situation. A fellow had killed 16-18 people in
Detroit, which was in a different county. He had
plead and was found not guilty by reason of insanity
and was sent to the mental health department.
It was assumed he would be there for the rest
of his life. The only way he could get out of
the institution was if the director determined
this fellow could not injure anyone. This man
had no feelings. He was an amoral sociopath who
was a hit man. He had probably killed some for
fun. But during the time he was in the institution,
the Supreme Court made a ruling that made it unconstitutional
to hold him there without allowing him the right
to a trial by jury to determine if he could be
released. He had a trial, and his counsel found
a psychiatrist who testified that he was fit to
be released. He was let out. His wife and daughter
were living in my county. According to him, his
wife had a boyfriend. So, he found and murdered
I tried the case. It was a very important case
because this guy was a real bad apple. If he didn't
get convicted, he was going back out to kill more
people. There was tremendous pressure and fear.
People were so petrified of this guy and who he
was and what he would do, that as soon as the
little daughter testified, the FBI sent her away,
put her in the witness protection program, and
gave her a new identity. Paul's words came to
mind throughout this trial:
For it is God which worketh in you both to
will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all
things without murmurings and disputings. Phil.
I really prayed to know that God was working
in me, in all of us. This was very helpful. Going
into this trial everyday, I had to guard myself
against the hate -- the hateful comments the defendant
said everyday to me or about me. The "good
pleasure" to me was to make sure that this
defendant was convicted of first degree murder.
In Michigan there's no parole for first degree
murder. I was in court constantly. The case went
all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was
upheld all the way. I don't know if the fellow's
still alive, but I do know that I would have been
notified had he been released.
I'm grateful when right prevails.
We will continue with
more of Jerry's experiences as a prosecuting attorney
next month. Jerry will share with us how Bible
stories and the Sermon on the Mount helped him
in court during some very tense trials.