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The Honorable Crockett Farnell – Semper Fidelis!
50 Year Member Profile

Crockett Farnell

Copyright © 2019, by Charles M. Samaha, all rights reserved.

In November 2018, Judge Crockett Farnell celebrated his 51st year as a member of The Florida Bar.

In 1939, Judge Farnell was born in Tampa. His mother was a Tampa native and his father was from Columbia County, Florida. Both sides of his family participated in the American Revolution and fought with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Count Pulaski Farnell, Judge Farnell’s paternal great-grandfather, partook in the Battle of Olustee, which occurred east of Lake City and was a Confederate victory. There are annual re-enactments of the battle. His maternal great-grandfather, Henry Clinton Lea, participated in a coup for Southern control of Nicaragua prior to the Civil War. He was captured and released before his planned execution. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1887-8, the Leas selflessly helped many inflicted people in Tampa.

Judge Farnell’s family moved to Tampa around 1942 and lived across the street from Hillsborough High School where his father coached football and where Judge Farnell later played football and won the Florida ‘Big 10’ championship two years in a row. In one of the games at the Orange Bowl, he played against Lee Corso, who quarterbacked for his Miami high school team.

In 1958, after his graduation from HHS, he entered Florida State University and was a member of the Student Senate and president of Kappa Alpha fraternity. After graduating from the School of Government, he entered the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class and graduated as Company Honor Man, fourth out of 704 Marines. He qualified for the flight program and intended on being a career Marine. In January 1962, upon graduation from FSU, he received his commission as a second lieutenant, but could not return to active duty until June as the flight billets were full. The Officer Selection Officer directed him to law school, as there was a need within the Marine Corps. He entered the University of Florida, but needs changed due to the looming Cuban Crisis. He was ordered to active duty in June and served with the 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, the 7th Marine Infantry Regiment, and as Top Secret Control Officer for the Communication Center Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton. Judge Farnell subsequently held numerous billets during his thirty-six years of Marine Reserve Service.

After his graduation from UF Law School and his admittance to The Florida Bar in 1967, he worked for a small firm in Clearwater and later formed the firm of Nixon & Farnell. He also worked part-time as an assistant state attorney under Clair Davis and tried cases with James “Jimmy” Russell and Richard “Dick” Mensh. He relished the trial work as a prosecutor and doing civil litigation with his firm. During one year, his firm held the record for the most cases filed in the counties of Hillsborough and Pinellas.

As much as he enjoyed litigation, Judge Farnell itched to try something new and applied for the judiciary. In 1982, Governor Graham telephoned to appoint him to the circuit court bench, to which Judge Farnell agreed. Two days later, Judge Farnell got another call accepting him into the U.S. Naval War College. Had he received the latter call first, his life may have gone in a different trajectory.

Judge Farnell started in criminal court at the Criminal Court Complex, which was also known as ‘Fogle’s Folly’ as there was a lot of construction around the building that interfered with the orderly disposition of cases. He subsequently rotated to Civil Division in downtown Clearwater and to the Juvenile Division.

One day Judge Farnell got a call from Florida Supreme Court Justice McDonald, who asked him to sit as a trial judge in a murder case as several other judges had been recused. A victim, Karen Gregory, had been murdered in her Gulfport home, allegedly by a neighbor who was a fireman. Judge Farnell agreed to try the case, which was held at the old courthouse in Bartow due to a change of venue. Since there was only one local motel, the defendant and his wife, his attorneys, the prosecutors, the witnesses, and Judge Farnell all stayed at the Davis Brothers Motor Lodge. Judge Farnell had tried numerous capital cases, but found this one especially graphic with the number of knife and defensive wounds the victim suffered and the gruesome description of the murder scene. It was too much for one juror as well, whom the judge had to excuse and substitute in an alternate. The jury found the defendant guilty. This case was the subject matter of the St. Petersburg Times, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Thomas French’s book, Unanswered Cries.

Judge Farnell famously had a media-fueled verbal donnybrook with Governor Bush when Judge Farnell held the DCF Secretary in contempt and fined her $80,000 for allegedly failing to provide medically required care to mentally incompetent inmates. He even threatened to jail her. Governor Bush referred to Judge Farnell’s actions as a judicial “temper tantrum.” Yet, his main concern was getting treatment to the inmates who needed it. Even though he recused himself from the case,1 the DCF settled shortly thereafter and the fine was paid.

Judge Farnell has three sons from a prior marriage – Joseph Crockett Farnell II, Robert William Farnell, and Clinton Lea Farnell. And, he has a step-son, Matthew Cordell Abbey, with his wife, the Honorable Dee Anna Farnell. They were paired together by mutual friends during Judge Rondolino’s investiture.

Judge Farnell still operates a 300-acre farm, which has been in his father’s family since 1850. He was mandatorily retired in 2006, but continues as a senior judge, mediator and arbitrator in medical malpractice/nursing home cases. He has been involved in many civic organizations and has received numerous awards, too numerous to list. His favorite award was the George W. Greer Judicial Independence Award presented by the Clearwater Bar Association. Upon receiving the reward, Judge Farnell proclaimed, “Eat your heart out Jeb Bush” to a roaring audience. He retired from the Marines as a colonel.

Hats off to you, Judge Crockett Farnell, for your contributions to our community!

Email or call Charles Samaha at (727) 821-0026 for a free consultation.

Legal information is not legal advice. Nothing here should be considered legal advice. If you have specific questions for Charles Samaha contact him for a consultation about your case.

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