Home>Feature>The O’Toole Chronicles: Judge Michael Farbiarz, a man of integrity

U.S. District Court Judge Michael E. Farbiarz. (Photo: New York University Law School).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Judge Michael Farbiarz, a man of integrity

By Kevin O'Toole, May 23 2023 12:01 am

I’ve spent most of my adult life in public service. Over the years, I’ve seen many different types of individuals who have chosen to serve in government. Some brilliant. Some not so much. Some honest. Some are ethically challenged.

Some are called “show horses” because they live for the credit.

Some are called “workhorses” because they keep their noses down to the tasks at hand but have little flair.

But occasionally, you encounter a thoroughbred – that rare individual whose work ethic is remarkable, whose ethics are unimpeachable, and whose ability to tackle heavy lift after heavy lift without hesitation is nothing short of extraordinary. Michael Farbiarz, the newly sworn-in U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey, is such an individual.

I had the honor of working with – and learning from – now-Judge Farbiarz when he served as General Counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He arrived at the Port Authority a year before me, in 2016. The very thing that Michael embodies – integrity – was lacking in too many important places within the agency. But with Michael in a key senior leadership role, that would change quickly and for the better.

At the Port Authority, he drafted the agency’s first-ever Code of Ethics for Commissioners. He helped to oversee thousands of litigations and to guide the negotiation and documentation of numerous highly significant commercial transactions, including several multi-billion-dollar airport redevelopment agreements. He led the negotiations that moved the percentage of unions-in-contract from 0 to 100 percent; developed the factual and legal basis for raising the minimum wage for 40,000 airport workers, to the then-highest rate in the nation; supervised the establishment and operation of the agency’s Office of Ethics and Compliance; and served for 20 months as Acting Inspector General.

A thoroughbred. But there’s much more.

He is a devoted and dedicated family man.

A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Michael served for nearly a decade as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he led multiple counter-terrorism prosecutions and in 2011 was awarded the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the Department of Justice’s single-highest annual employee honor.

The many cases Michael prosecuted for the federal government made America safer. Some of you may have seen Tom Hanks’ film Captain Phillips, which was based on a true account of an American merchant sea captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates. Michael successfully prosecuted that case for the federal government, the first major piracy prosecution in more than 150 years. He led the prosecution of the individual who orchestrated the simultaneous 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. These two cases are but a small sampling of Michael’s distinguished legal career as a federal prosecutor.

The core of any person – and this should be paramount for anyone serving in the judicial branch – is integrity. When introducing Michael to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in January of this year, U.S. Senator Cory Booker said Michael’s professional career was marked by three words: service, service, service. I would add three more: integrity, integrity, integrity.

The committee’s comments are noteworthy. Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Dick Durbin said, “I’m afraid to think of what I would ask you here today that does justice to your service to our country.” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said, “you seem very qualified,” which in our hyper-partisan government was a rare acknowledgment of an unimpeachable career of public service.

Michael’s nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 17-4, another remarkable testament of Michael’s qualifications; the full U.S. Senate confirmed him by a vote of 65-34.

I believe that where we start in life has much to do with where we end up. Michael’s father was born in a displaced persons camp in 1946 Germany. His mother’s family came from what once was the Ottoman Empire. As someone who also is a first generation American, I understand the significance of growing up in a household where parents do not take for granted the freedoms and opportunities that are part of the promise of America.

Nor am I ignorant that the promise of America is still just that to many immigrant families and that it takes a certain level of commitment, focus and hard work to prod and push our society to be what President Reagan called a shining city on a hill.

The Judicial branch is the check and balance against abuses by the Executive and Legislative branches of government. At its best, the judiciary is comprised of individuals of the highest character who hear cases, look at the law and established precedent, and then, thoughtfully deliberate based on the law and statutes.

Not to do a disservice to John Adams, while our republic is grounded in a government of laws and not of men, it is human beings – individuals – who interpret those laws and ensure that we live in a free and just society.

Michael Farbiarz is someone I believe the framers had in mind when they created the judicial branch. He is man of humility. He is not a show horse; he is a thoroughbred.

Watch him closely. He is a rare breed.

P.S.: A huge shout out to my son, Kevin, Jr., who gets sworn in today as an attorney by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti.

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