Wednesday, November 24, 1999

FOP backs down in conflict with cop-killing lawyer


Plea ban lifted after lawsuit

BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's police union agreed in federal court Tuesday to lift its ban on all dealings with an attorney who once went to prison for murder.

        The agreement came just hours after the attorney, Derek Anthony Farmer, filed a lawsuit claiming police and prosecutors had violated the civil rights of his clients.

        “It's the fastest federal lawsuit I've ever seen,” said Mr. Farmer's lawyer, Scott Greenwood. “We're very satisfied with the results.”

        The dispute began last week when the Fraternal Order of Police announced its officers would refuse to do business with Mr. Farmer or the firm that hired him, Kenneth Lawson & Associates.

        FOP President Keith Fangman had said Cincinnati's 1,000 officers would reject all plea bargains or court settlements involving the law firm's clients.

        “We will not accept any, and I mean any, request for plea bargains,” Mr. Fangman said last week.

        At the time, Mr. Fangman said he was outraged that Mr. Farmer was permitted to practice law despite a 1975 conviction for aiding and abetting the shooting deaths of two men, including a Dayton police officer.

        But after a meeting with U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott, the FOP promised it would not reject deals based on the attorney involved in the case.

        “There will not be a blanket prohibition,” Mr. Greenwood said. “They will leave it up to the individual officers.”

        Mr. Fangman would not discuss how or why the union's stance had changed since last week.

        He did say, however, that union members instructed him late Monday to issue a statement: “FOP members reserve the right to not accept plea bargain requests when asked to give an opinion by the judge.”

        The statement is a departure from his comments last week, when Mr. Fangman promised to “take every case to

        trial.”

        The issue is important because plea bargains, in which defendants plead guilty to lesser charges, resolve dozens of cases every day without the time and expense of a trial.

        Although only prosecutors can make a plea deal, the FOP's threat to boycott them could have shaken up the court system because judges routinely ask whether the arresting officers approve.

        In their lawsuit, Mr. Farmer and Mr. Lawson claimed such a ban would violate their civil rights as well as the rights of their clients.

        The lawsuit named the FOP, Mr. Fangman and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.

        Mr. Allen said his assistant prosecutors always seek input from police officers but would never impose a ban on deals involving a particular firm or attorney.

        “We have not and will not discriminate against any lawyer,” Mr. Allen said.

        But Mr. Allen and other law enforcement officials, including at least one Cincinnati judge, have been outspoken critics of the decision allowing Mr. Farmer to be an attorney.

        The Ohio Supreme Court approved his law license after concluding he had changed significantly in prison and now had the necessary character to practice law.

        Mr. Farmer was convicted in 1975 of aiding and abetting the shooting deaths of Police Sgt. William K. Mortimer and civil rights activist William Sumpter McIntosh.

        The shootings occurred as Mr. Farmer, then 16, and his 18-year-old nephew, Calvin Farmer, fled after robbing a jewelry store. Although his judge concluded that Derek Farmer did not fire the shots, he was sentenced to life in prison.

        He was paroled in 1992 and attended law school at the University of Akron.

        Mr. Farmer declined comment, but Mr. Lawson said he hoped the agreement Tuesday in federal court would allow Mr. Farmer to practice law without interference.

        “We are totally satisfied with the agreement,” Mr. Lawson said. “We'll continue to fight for our clients.”

       



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