Meet the Bar Leaders: Michael Farkas’ act of rebellion was to join the Army
Michael Farkas was destined to be a Court Street lawyer. His grandfather was a New York State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn and his father was a homicide prosecutor who introduced him to the Brooklyn DA’s Office from a very young age.
“As early as 5 years old, dad [George Farkas] was taking me to the DA’s Office and I was meeting his buddies, seeing the camaraderie, touring the courts and jails, and reading newspaper articles about cases they handled,” Farkas said. “Criminal law became something I really wanted to do. Some people wanted to become firemen, others astronauts, but after being exposed to that environment, that’s all I wanted to do.”
However, Farkas was never one for cookie-cutter molds and didn’t want to follow his father. He was a history buff, and his grandfather Justice Samuel Greenstein, who served as a combat engineer in WWII (and later as supervising judge of Brooklyn’s Civil Court), opened his eyes to the world of the U.S. armed forces.
Before he could join the military, though, Farkas always took for granted that he had to finish college. So, the kid from Canarsie who graduated from Midwood High School went off to the University of Albany, where he pursued a degree in criminal justice. He then went straight to Brooklyn Law School.
Between undergraduate and law school, Farkas worked as an intern with the Brooklyn DA’s Office homicide bureau. He worked under DA Charles Hynes with Ken Taub, Jim Koenig, Gary Farrell and loved it. By the time he started at law school, he had already began to forget about the military as a career option.
Things changed for Farkas when he started researching options in the army reserve, which made him realize that he still had an opportunity to join the military. Although he had been offered his dream job to become an ADA in Brooklyn, the Reserve offered him the chance to realize both of his dreams and serve concurrently in both the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps and the District Attorney’s Office.
“I never wanted to go down a completely traditional route,” Farkas said.”Joining the military was something really appealed to me. When I started researching the JAG Corps, I learned how military lawyers have very different roles than their civilian counterparts, I was hooked. I was particularly drawn to the operational law missions of advising commanders on the law on armed conflict, the law of war, Geneva Conventions, etc.”
In 1996, Farkas, after two years at the DA’s Office, was deployed for the first time to Europe in support of the U.S. peacekeeping mission in the Balkans.
“That turned out to be one of the greatest times of my life because I was serving as an active duty JAG officer, traveling every single weekend and learning a lot,” Farkas said. “I was drawn to it because I was doing work that was completely different from what I had known I’d be doing for many years as a civilian in the field of criminal justice.”
Farkas returned to the DA’s Office in 1997 and by 1999, he was promoted to Senior ADA and began working under Taub as a trial assistant in the Homicide Bureau which handled some of the most violent and high-profile murder cases in the city.
After over eight years at the DA’s Office and another deployment after the 9/11 attacks as a dual Military Police and JAG officer Guantanamo Bay, Farkas decided that he wanted to leave the DA’s Office, but he still didn’t want to go down the traditional criminal defense route. That’s when he got a call from his friend and former DA’s Office classmate and current mayor of Rye, New York, Joe Sack, to come work with him at Salomon Smith Barney on Wall Street.
Farkas didn’t think he was right for securities litigation, but he was again drawn to do something different, and he soon realized that trial work was trial work no matter the subject. He enjoyed his time at Smith Barney, but he began to miss the challenge and excitement of traditional criminal trial work. The very thing that he, at first, tried to avoid was calling him back.
“Sometimes you have to step away from something to realize what it means to you,” Farkas said. “After doing that work for so long, honing my skills at a high level, and grinding out trial after trial, I realized that Wall Street was not exclusively where my career was going in the long term. I missed criminal law, I was good at it and I just couldn’t throw it all away, and I realized that I wasn’t having as much fun.”
Once he was out on his own, still defending financial industry clients but building his criminal defense practice between his Manhattan office and his office at 32 Court St., Farkas began getting more involved with the legal community. He became active within the Kings County Criminal Bar Association (KCCBA), and he eventually took over as president where he made a big impact.
“Michael’s stewardship of the KCCBA was phenomenal,” said Hon. Barry Kamins, former administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, and a past president of the KCCBA. “He expended tremendous energy into ensuring that the association ran smoothly and he spoke out aggressively on criminal justice reform, including raising the age of criminal responsibility, bail reform and wrongful convictions.”
Farkas has become known as one of the preeminent criminal defense attorneys in Brooklyn. He’s well-known for high-profile cases like the Dell’s Cherry’s case, and for representing clients such as Assemblymember Nelson Castro, and one of the “hooker bookers” from the Elliot Spitzer prostitution scandal. Today, he’s in the news with several clients including Nicholas Batka, the cop charged in a fatal DWI crash in Williamsburg.
He has also taken a more active role within the Brooklyn Bar Association, and was named trustee in 2014. He even said that while he isn’t quite ready to go down the track of being president of that organization, he would be humbled if he was considered for the position.
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