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Crime & Courts

Ethics complaint alleges Farrell fabricated wife's death certificate

John Ferrell, at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore, Ill., on Tuesday June 9, 2009.
John Ferrell, at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore, Ill., on Tuesday June 9, 2009.

Former DeKalb County State’s Attorney John Farrell is accused of fabricating his wife’s death certificate and lying about caring for an ill sister in Iowa while attorney ethics officers were investigating him, records show.

John Edward Farrell resigned as assistant state’s attorney Oct. 12, 2012, for lying to county officials about appealing a legal matter he had actually settled without telling them, according to an ethics complaint filed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Farrell, a Democrat, was appointed the DeKalb County’s State’s Attorney in June 2009 to replace the previous state’s attorney, who became a judge. After Clay Campbell was elected state’s attorney in November 2010, Campbell put Farrell in charge of his office’s civil division.

The ethics complaint, which became public record this week after Farrell received a copy of it, alleged that he forged the death certificate, lied to ethics investigators, offered to settle litigation on behalf of the county without consulting county officials, and offered fake updates to county officials about an eminent domain case he never filed.

The phone number listed for Farrell’s office in Park Ridge has been disconnected; other attempts the Daily Chronicle made to reach him for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

Farrell has until Dec. 24 to file a written answer to the allegations, said Peter Rotskoff, chief of litigation for the attorney ethics commission. Then he could have a hearing before a board of two attorneys and a nonattorney, which ultimately could determine whether the allegations are founded and suggest a punishment to the Illinois Supreme Court. Possible sanctions range from a reprimand to disbarment.

The ethics complaint details a series of illnesses, including possibly his own, Farrell allegedly lied about to try to get deadline extensions or to explain his mistakes.

Around Nov. 17, 2011, Farrell told then-State’s Attorney Campbell that he couldn’t go to court that day because his wife, Katherine Kamka Farrell, was dying and receiving last rites. On Jan. 31, 2012, he referenced his wife’s death in telling DeKalb County Judge Kurt Klein that he had communication issues in a pending case involving the county.

Then, when the ethics commission was investigating Klein’s allegations that Farrell lied to him about his wife’s death, Farrell told ethics investigators that his wife moved to Arizona after it became clear she wasn’t going to recover, the complaint states.

“For the next two months or so, I spent significant time away with Katherine,” he wrote ethics investigators, according to the complaint. “Sadly, that ended without me being present when she passed. I lost my best friend and soulmate. Katherine was a very spiritual person who always told me to walk in awareness.”

He gave ethics investigators a “certificate of cause of death” stating that she died Jan. 4, 2012, of cardiac arrest due to lung cancer, as a consequence of cervical cancer, the complaint states. The complaint alleges that document was fabricated.

After DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert and Campbell told ethics investigators about Farrell lying to county officials about appealing a case, Farrell allegedly lied to ethics investigators again, the complaint states.

Farrell asked for more time to respond to Stuckert’s and Campbell’s claims, stating: “Beginning Dec. 17, 2012, and through Jan. 1, 2013, I have been caring for my very ill sister in Iowa. Upon my return to Chicago, I discovered your letter ... I therefore respectfully request 30 days to respond.”

Farrell has one sister who hasn’t seen him in about eight years, the complaint alleges.

Then, when ethics investigators asked him to appear at their Chicago office Sept. 11, he responded with a letter claiming he had emergency surgery in Iowa City while helping his daughter move back to college.

“I became seriously ill while there and was admitted to University Hospitals in Iowa City, where I underwent emergency stomach/colon surgery and was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer,” Farrell wrote in the letter, according to the complaint. “I was released from the hospital on Sept. 5, but I am too weak to travel back to Chicago and must undergo follow-up exams and chemotherapy for the next 30 to 60 days.”

He claimed his son and daughter were helping him get to his sister’s house, where he would remain in their care, the complaint states. The address he provided for the sister was an outdated address for the sister he has not seen since 2005, the complaint states.

Current DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who was involved with the case in which Farrell allegedly lied to county officials about appealing, said Farrell was a pleasant and well-respected attorney. Schmack doesn’t have an explanation for Farrell’s behavior.

“Everybody I know liked [Farrell,]” Schmack said Friday. “He displayed a good knowledge of the law and a grasp of everything he was asked to do, which is probably why this came as such a surprise and a shock to everyone.”

Campbell echoed that assessment of Farrell, describing him as an outstanding attorney with extensive litigation experience. Campbell worried that some exploited Farrell’s situation for political gain last fall.

“When you look back and you look at some of his behavior, it was clear he was suffering some issues,” said Campbell, who said he tried to offer help. “What exactly these issues were, [Farrell] is very private, so I’m not able to elaborate.”

Before Schmack was elected in November 2012, Schmack called for a special prosecutor to investigate Farrell. After he took office, Schmack asked county officials to notify his office if they hadn’t received any timely updates about matters Farrell had been working on for them.

That’s how Schmack said he found out about the eminent domain case Farrell allegedly lied about filing. Schmack reported the case to ethics investigators and concluded a special prosecutor wasn’t needed to investigate possible criminal conduct.

“In reflecting on it after the election and knowing that the [ethics commission] was examining all of these allegations,” Schmack said, “it seemed it was better to let them do their work.”

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