After a weeklong civil trial, a federal jury in Newnan on Friday found that Atlanta attorney Millard Farmer and his law practice engaged in a racketeering enterprise in violation of Georgia law.
The jury in the civil case determined by a preponderance of evidence that Farmer, as part of the racketeering enterprise, engaged in attempted theft by extortion, attempted bribery, intimidation of a court officer, influencing witnesses, interstate travel in aid of racketeering and interference with custody, according to the verdict.
The jury cleared Farmer of allegations that he violated federal racketeering laws, engaged in kidnapping for extortion, committed wire fraud or filed false reports of child abuse in furtherance of an extortion scheme, according to the verdict form.
It also awarded plaintiff John Murphy, a former Columbus mortage banker and financial planner, compensatory and treble punitive damages totaling $242,835.
The three-year-old civil case, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, stems from a protracted child custody battle in which Farmer represented Murphy’s former wife. The suit claims Farmer’s lawyering perverted the legal process and crossed the line into organized criminal behavior in an effort to extort payments from Murphy and his current wife—Renee Haugerud, the founder and chief financial officer of a New York hedge fund—and force the couple to relinquish custody of Murphy’s two sons from his previous marriage.
“This was not a case about money,” said Murphy’s attorney Buddy Parker of Maloy Jenkins Parker after the jury returned its verdict. “This was case about having Millard Farmer held responsible for the criminal conduct he committed.”
Farmer, he said, “claimed all along that what he did was lawful lawyering defending a client.” But Parker said he told the jury that Farmer’s litigation tactics amounted to “terroristic lawyering” designed to “exert as much financial pain and emotional pain” as possible over a custody modification petition that ultimately took four-and-a-half years to resolve.
Farmer, who is in his 70s, built his reputation as a death penalty combatant who at one time was allied with and partially funded by the Southern Poverty Law Center to fight capital punishment across the South. Farmer developed an aggressive tactic he dubbed “conflictineering”—the creation or use of an event that would “expose the hypocrisy or immorality of a person involved in a dispute.”
Farmer represented himself during the litigation. His cellphone was not accepting calls, nor could he be reached for comment. He previously told The Daily Report that, despite the allegations, no crime was committed, so there could be no racketeering enterprise.
The jury verdict included findings that Farmer:
- Attempted to bribe Coweta Superior Court Judge Quillian Baldwin by suing his court reporter and then offering to dismiss the suit if Baldwin recused from the litigation and made his recusal retroactive to predate his 2012 ruling giving custody of the two boys to their father.
- Intimidated Baldwin’s court reporter by contacting her lawyer, saying he would dismiss the suit against her if she persuaded the judge to recuse retroactive to the custody ruling.
- Tampered with witnesses and court-appointed personnel by making inflammatory accusations intended to damage the professional reputations of two court-appointed guardians ad litem and three court-appointed psychologists, the judge, and Haugerud, John Murphy’s current wife, either with litigation, threats to sue or complaints to their respective licensing or ethics boards.
- Attempted to extort funds from Murphy and his wife by allegedly engaging in efforts to impair their credit and professional reputations through the dissemination of information accusing them of criminal offenses, and making false statements over interstate wires to the media.