Jerry Farmer (Part 1)

Prosecuting Attorney

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Law

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.

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 the criminals.

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.

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.

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 equity:

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. (Prov. 1:2-5)

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.

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, 8)

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 of law.

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 her.

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. 2:13, 14)

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.

In Part 2, Jerry shares with us how Bible stories and the Sermon on the Mount helped him in court during some very tense trials.

About Jerry Farmer

Jerry Farmer was born and raised in a small farming community in southwestern Michigan. He worked on a farm with many animals, including his horse, Betty. His parents were both Bible students. He had two brothers, one older and one younger. Jerry attended the University of Michigan where he obtained three degrees: a B.A. in Economics, his J.D., and his M.B.A.

After his freshman year of law school, he married Carolyn F. Connelly, who is also an excellent Bible student. She, too, was a Michigan student who got her B.A. and M.A. in history and became a teacher. They have two children, Jerome and Scott, who continue the family tradition of being excellent Bible students as well as scholars and athletes.

After graduating from law and business school, Jerry went into the private practice of law. This was a time of student unrest and many riots. Working in the Ann Arbor City Attorney's Office, he was assigned to the Ann Arbor Police Department and covered the city's criminal trials. He then joined the Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Office as First Assistant where he tried felony cases and was later promoted to Senior Assistant. He was then appointed Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in charge of Circuit Court and all trials and cases, including his own.

He retired from the Criminal Justice System thirty years later. Since his retirement, he has been a securities and financial advisor and investor when he's not traveling with his wife, family, or friends.

Jerry shares an interesting anecdote about how he got into the University of Michigan Law School:
After I graduated from the U of M with a degree in economics, I decided to go to the U of M law school, which was ranked second behind Harvard at that time. My test scores on the law tests were high, but I didn't have magical grades. However, the head of the economics department took a liking to me and supported my desire to go to law school. He was a labor expert who, while in Washington, D.C., had helped write the social security laws under FDR. He wrote me a wonderful recommendation, and I was accepted. When I look back, I realize that I didn't have a fall-back plan. But God was directing every step I took.