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ATTORNEY LOVES HIGH DRAMA OF PUBLIC DEFENSE; LAWYER RETURNS TO COURTROOM.

Byline: David Greenberg Staff Writer

Former Ventura County Assistant Public Defender Jean Farley spent her lunch hour Friday at an office party celebrating her demotion.

After nine years overseeing half of her office's 50 lawyers - those handling misdemeanor, civil, juvenile and mental health cases - Farley readily accepted the $18,000 pay cut to return to trial court defense.

``I have the most fulfilling job in the world,'' said Farley, who had been lobbying for two years for her new position as senior deputy public defender. ``It is like living in a very interesting mystery novel . . . that you really want to have answers to.''

The career move, effective last Monday, marks the return to nuts-and-bolts indigent defense Farley thrived on during her eight years as a deputy Orange County public defender, and during the four years in that role in Ventura County before her promotion.

Signs that she would eventually return to the courtroom emerged nearly the moment Ventura County Public Defender Kenneth Clayman offered her the position as one of his two assistants.

She agreed to the administrative and supervisorial role as Clayman's assistant only because it offered her an opportunity to try at least one case a year defending women charged with a violent act against an abusive partner.

``The cases usually involved situations where the woman was abandoned without hope,'' she said. ``We are not by nature violent, as a general rule. So my experience has been, if you represent a woman who is accused of a violent act against a significant man in her life, there's a high likelihood she's been abused. I have a soft spot for people who have been abused.''

Defends abused women

The few such cases she handled during the 1990s include an Oxnard woman who, after 12 years of abuse, was charged with murder for gunning down her husband in front of two police officers in 1997. Authorities were responding to the woman's call for help because the restraining order against her husband had expired five days earlier. She eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving a six-year sentence.

Another case involved a Simi Valley woman, who authorities said withstood six years of abuse by her husband, drove to his Moorpark auto body shop and rammed the car he was working under, causing the jacks on which the vehicle was hoisted to collapse. Although the car crushed part of his body, the man survived. The defendant was originally charged with attempted murder and ultimately was convicted of hit-and-run, which garnered a 30-day sentence.

``(Farley) is inordinately well prepared,'' Clayman said. ``She's dynamic. She has great logic and common sense. She's very insightful about other people - and I include in that prosecutors, judges and jurors.

``She has an enormous passion for her work. She has an infinite patience and compassion for her clients. These are the qualities all trial lawyers should aspire to. It's one of the reasons why she was so effective in her role of assistant public defender.''

Native-born and bred

Born in Long Beach in 1953, Farley - no relation to Ventura attorney James Farley - grew up in nearby Wilmington, a tomboy in a racially mixed neighborhood who loved rollerskating, tennis and baseball.

Farley rooted for the Dodgers when they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, but she could not afford tickets to the ballpark.

Summers were spent instead with her sisters riding the bus to a community swimming pool.

Reading newspapers at age 12, Farley came upon a rape trial story involving a man defended by Gladys Towleroot, the legendary defense attorney known for wearing flamboyant hats and large brooches.

Farley began hopping on buses that passed by the Long Beach Superior Court for the six-week trial that summer.

``I remember thinking, gosh, this is better than reading my older sister's diary,'' Farley said. ``I became interested in the whole dynamics of the courtroom scene. What interested me was the look of people's faces when they were asked questions (and) the personal information they gave about themselves.''

Suddenly, her life had some direction. She knew she wanted a job in a courtroom, but she wasn't exactly sure which one.

Farley graduated in 1976 from California State University at Long Beach with a bachelor's degree in English and history, while also earning her teaching credential.

Two years later, she earned her law degree from Pepperdine University.

While there, she interviewed for a law clerk's position with the Orange County District Attorney's office.

During standard questioning, she revealed that she would feel uncomfortable prosecuting anyone charged with prostitution or bookmaking.

``To me they are victimless crimes,'' Farley said. ``It's doing something the law makes criminal when it's not hurting anybody. I felt I wouldn't want to put anybody in jail for that. (The DA's office) thought I would make a really good defense attorney.''

21 years' experience

With 21 years experience under her belt, Farley now takes pride in the fact highly-paid private defense attorneys often call upon her for advice.

``It makes me know that I am fulfilling my goal, which is to give poor people the same opportunity rich people have,'' she said.

With work weeks stretching up to 80 hours when in trial, and a home life that includes two teen-age stepdaughters and a son to look after, free time is sparse for Farley and her boyfriend, who live in Carpenteria.

When she can find the time, she indulges in her fascination of Navajo Indians through the novels of Tony Hillerman and enjoys testing her luck at Indian casinos, for which she reads a lot of books on betting.

Favoring video poker, Farley travels to San Diego or Santa Barbara monthly, and she claims to walk away a winner far more often than a loser.

For the past five years, she has won enough money - up to $3,300 a day - to require documentation on income tax forms.

``I have won a lot more than anybody I know because I never play unless the situation is right,'' Farley said.

Her earnings will come in handy, now her salary has been reduced from $110,731 to $92,104.

``It demonstrates that her character and her idealism is greater than her desire for money,'' Clayman said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 8, 1999
Words:1040
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