Farmer Divorce Won't Play Out in Court

May 27, 2011

The cancellation of Richie Farmer’s divorce hearing is either a sign he and his wife want to settle privately or don't have issues that warrant a judge's attention, attorneys and others say. Farmer and his wife, Rebecca, had been scheduled to appear before Franklin Family Court Judge Squire Williams III on Thursday, but a one-sentence document in the case said the hearing had been canceled by mutual agreement.

"That would be a common thing that individuals involved in divorce cases do when they don't want nosey reporters poking around," said Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, a veteran Kentucky divorce lawyer who isn't involved in the Farmer case.

Frankfort attorney Richard Guarnieri, representing Richie Farmer, said the hearing was canceled simply because it was unnecessary.

"They don't have any issues that they need the judge's help on," Guarnieri said.

Rebecca Farmer filed for divorce last month in the midst of a GOP gubernatorial primary battle, which features her husband, the Agriculture Commissioner and lieutenant governor gubernatorial candidate.

Despite the potentially troublesome development, Richie Farmer and gubernatorial candidate David Williams won the Republican nomination over two opponents.

In the initial round of court filings, Rebecca Farmer had asked for primary custody of their three sons and that Richie Farmer pay child support. Richie Farmer responded by asking that the divorce petition be dismissed, and, if not, that joint custody be awarded.

Guarnieri declined to comment on whether the Farmers are trying to settle the case.

"Of course, settlement discussions are all confidential, so I don't want to get into that," Guarnieri said. "These things move at their own pace. No one case is the same as another, so it will move as quickly or as slowly as it needs to."

Bill Hoge, an experienced divorce attorney from Louisville, said it’s unlikely either Richie or Rebecca Farmer will move out of the family home.

“That’s the premiere rule, don’t ever let your client move out,” Hoge said. “If you do, it becomes a war of siege.”

Political opponents have been careful not to make the divorce case an issue in the governor's race, adhering to Richie Farmer's request to respect his family's privacy.

Al Cross, noted journalist and political observer, disagreed, saying “how public figures handle their most important relationship is of public interest.”

He said politicos are more concerned about the issue than voters, many of whom feel sympathy with the Farmers.

If the divorce goes forward, Joe Gershtenson, director of the Kentucky Institute of Public Governance and Civic Engagement at Eastern Kentucky University, said it could have negative consequences for the gubernatorial campaign.

When considered with other issues including his stay at a hotel in Lexington during the state basketball tournament, it could raise questions about his integrity, he said.

“As a Republican, the divorce also has potential consequences in terms of evaluations by social conservatives within the party,” Gershtenson wrote in an e-mail.

“As the party stereotyped as the strongest supporter of traditional family values divorce does not necessarily sit well with some of the core.”

Richie Farmer also faces criticism over his $10,000 trip to the Caribbean, his refusal to participate in mandatory furloughs and personal use of state vehicles.

Stuart Victor, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, said the gubernatorial race will be decided on the arguments presented by the candidates. He dismissed questions about Richie Farmer’s divorce as “gossip.”

Williams recruited Farmer, a guard on the legendary 1992 University of Kentucky team dubbed "The Unforgettables," to be his running mate. Farmer had considered running for governor himself before teaming up with Williams.

A Clay County native, Farmer is one of the most recognized names in Kentucky. He is serving his second term as agriculture commissioner, a constitutional position in Kentucky.

Rebecca Farmer's lawyer, Brian Logan of Frankfort, didn't return telephone calls Thursday.

The court file includes an affidavit from Rebecca Farmer, saying that she has been a stay-at-home mother of their three sons for 12 years of their 13-year marriage. She has been working as a teacher's aide in the Franklin County school system for less than a year, earning about $1,100 a month.

Rebecca Farmer asked that her husband, who receives about $110,000 as agricultural commissioner, “pay her attorney's fees and all court costs in this proceeding.” She said he “is in complete control of the parties' finances” and that she has no access to their funds.

In what has become standard language in divorce cases, Rebecca Farmer said in the affidavit that the marriage “is irretrievably broken and there exists no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.” Richie Farmer disagreed with his wife on that in his response to her divorce petition.

Rebecca Farmer also requested that Richie Farmer be required to pay the family's bills, including mortgage, car payments, utilities, property taxes and insurance premiums, until the case is resolved.