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Full-time Amherst judge keeps practicing law

When the Amherst Town Board promoted Judge Mark G. Farrell from part-time to full-time status in 
January 2011 – and raised his pay from $74,713 to $96,700 – it did so with the understanding he would give up his private law practice to expand court hours.

But since Farrell accepted the full-time post and raise, he hasn't given up his private practice in Amherst. He continues to actively solicit clients with large color ads in the Erie County Bar Association Bulletin, which is published 10 times a year.

The "Law Offices of Mark G. Farrell and Associates" has been a regular advertiser with the bulletin since 2002, with Farrell touting his specialty in medical misconduct, drug enforcement and education department re-licensure proceedings, according to bar association records.

"The resolution was that I would close my law office, not that I would stop practicing law," Farrell said in response to questions from The Buffalo News.

Yet the resolution that the Town Board unanimously passed in September 2010 states that "each judge is terminating his outside practice and teaching responsibilities in order to accommodate the additional court day." Another part-time town judge was given full-time status along with Farrell under the agreement.

Farrell said he wound down his law office work and finally closed his Transit Road office in September 2011, one year after the resolution was adopted. He is listed as a University at Buffalo adjunct law professor, but he has not taught there since 2008, according to the school.

When the resolution was being prepared two years ago, Farrell said, he spoke with Supervisor Barry Weinstein, and both men agreed that Farrell would be allowed to continue his outside law work as long as he closed his physical office.

"There was never any discussion that I stop being a lawyer in Western New York," Farrell said.

Weinstein, however, expressed surprise and said he has no memory of any such agreement.

"I have no recollection of that," he said. "My expectation of that was that they would be giving up their outside practice of law. I didn't envision new clients."

The supervisor subsequently called Farrell. The follow-up conversation with the judge did not improve Weinstein's memory regarding any discussion of the judge keeping an outside practice going. But the supervisor said he was satisfied that Farrell had scaled back his practice considerably, closed his office and was maintaining full-time hours as a town judge.

"He said he retains about four clients in a specialty that is not all that commonly done," Weinstein said. "Do I have an objection to it? Probably not, in that he's closing his practice and devoting more time to the town. The stuff that he's doing, representing doctors, is not going to end up in Amherst Town Court."

Deputy Supervisor Guy Marlette stated that Farrell works beyond his minimum required full-time hours as town justice and that his limited outside work does not conflict with his town obligations.

Farrell stated to The News that by closing his Transit Road law office, he gave up about 95 percent of his private clients. Farrell also estimated that he devotes 45 to 50 hours a week to town court matters, particularly since he also oversees the town's highly regarded drug, veterans and gambling treatment courts.

"I'm on call virtually 2 4/7 ," said Farrell, who has enjoyed a stellar reputation as a town justice for most of his career.

The News previously reported that the Town Board unanimously voted last month to give Farrell and his spouse lifetime health insurance after he retires at the end of 2013, even though it appears to go against a town policy that has been in place for 18 years.

In 1994, the first year Farrell served as town justice, the Town Board adopted a policy that eliminated lifetime health insurance coverage for Council members and town judges upon retirement at age 62. It also required Council members and judges to begin contributing 10 percent toward their insurance costs.

Neither Farrell, the board nor the Human Resources Department could find any written record that an exception was made to grandfather in certain town justices.

Farrell, however, said he was assured by the personnel director at the time that the resolution didn't apply to him.

"I was told specifically not to worry about it, that I was grandfathered in," he said.

The board approved a resolution Aug. 20 granting Farrell paid health insurance, minus his 10 percent contribution, upon retirement. As part of a negotiated compromise, Farrell agreed that he would not be reimbursed for any Medicare costs deducted from his Social Security.