Game On: Once a Bully, Always a Bully?
After over 20 years being a lawyer and 16 years at NCLR, I will admit it takes a special kind of homophobia or inhumanity to shock me. Over the years, I have seen some pretty horrible behavior. But when we first heard the story of Jennifer Tobits and her deceased wife, Sarah ‘Ellyn’ Farley, I was shocked.
I first wrote about Jennifer and Ellyn in August. What stunned me most about this case was not just the tragedy of Ellyn’s death and her parents’ attempts to deny the reality of their daughter’s love and life, but the behavior of Ellyn’s father in the hours before his daughter’s death. I could not help but recall the deaths of my parents.
My mom and I had always been close, and became even more so in the years leading up to her death after a series of strokes. After her death in November 2003, I reflected not just on how grateful I was for our relationship, but on what a gift it was that we had no baggage, no unfinished business, no “what ifs.”
My dad died a year later after a number of health setbacks. I was at the house in the days preceding his death and the night he died. Unlike my mom, my dad and I had a complicated, and sometimes difficult, relationship because he was basically a racist jerk for most of my life. But in the years before his death, he softened, and I forgave him at least some of his ignorance and small-mindedness. When he took his last breath at 3:00 a.m. on December 16, 2004, I felt relief for him and the calm that comes from making peace with the past.
So when we heard the stories of David Farley badgering his daughter Ellyn, his daughter-in-law Jennifer, and their friends as they held vigil at the hospital—when we were told that in Ellyn’s last hours, as she was throwing up blood, David Farley insistently focused on getting Ellyn to sign a document transferring her small profit-sharing plan funds to his name rather than to her wife Jennifer’s name, as she intended, I was sickened and furious.
I do not know the ins and outs of Mr. Farley’s relationship with his daughter, but it clearly was troubled in many ways. In his daughter’s last hours, he could have given them both the gift of peace, resolution, and support long withheld. He could have been the father that perhaps he imagined himself to be.
But he did not.
A few weeks ago, David Farley sued both NCLR and me personally for what I wrote in that blog, specifically for repeating an allegation from the lawsuit filed on Jennifer’s behalf challenging the validity of the profit-sharing transfer document. Those court papers include the allegation that Ellyn’s body bore scars from beatings at the hand of her father, an allegation based on information from Jennifer and some of Ellyn’s closest friends, each of whom saw the scars or heard Ellyn talk about the abuse.
When we received David Farley’s lawsuit alleging defamation and seeking damages, my first thought was, “once a bully, always a bully.” Mr. Farley demanded more than $2 million in damages, claiming that my blog caused him to suffer “humiliation, embarrassment, mortification … disgrace, and scandal,” which would “endure permanently.”
I am very happy to report that Mr. Farley’s lawsuit was dismissed this past week for lack of jurisdiction.
At NCLR, we often represent those who have been bullied, whether by fellow students, teachers or administrators, employers, the government, ex-partners, or families. But our mission is to stand up to bullies. We do not back down. And in fact, on our best days, the bully comes to understand that there is a better way.
It may be that David Farley is not done. He may sue us again in California, because he is angry, and he likely is having a hard time sleeping. If he is truly mortified, humiliated, disgraced, and embarrassed, these are self-inflicted wounds. In the last days of his daughter’s life he could have made peace with Ellyn. He could have said “I’m sorry,” banished his demon companions, and used those last precious moments to celebrate and love his daughter. But he did not do those things, and now it is too late.