Former judge remembered for fairness, longevity

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010
— Longtime Rock County Judge Mark J. Farnum was born on Sept. 17U.S. Constitution Day.

Farnum, who served three decades as a judge in Rock and Dane counties, once spoke to a Janesville Noon Kiwanis Club on his birthday, telling the group that the U.S. Constitution was "the Bible of the government."

The judge, who kept a copy of the Constitution on his office wall, lived by a doctrine of fairness, equity and the American values of right and wrong, his colleagues said.

Farnum, former U.S. Navy radio operator, county prosecutor and deputy chief judge, died Friday in Beloit. He was 84.

Rock County Judge James Daley, 63, said Farnum kept a courtroom running smoothly using two simple ingredients: preparedness and courtesy. He called Farnum "a blessing."

"He trained a whole generation of lawyers about what right looks like," Daley said.

Farnum, a Janesville native, served as a judge in Rock County from 1962 until 1988, when he retired and became a reserve judge.

Dane County Judge Daniel Moeser, 64, said he knew Farnum as circuit judge and later as a reserve judge. As a reserve judge, Moeser said, people would beg to have Farnum hear their cases.

"There wasn't a better judge in the state of Wisconsin during my years. He combined intelligence, common sense and grace," Moeser said.

Farnum continued working as a reserve judge until a few years ago. Moeser recalled once asking Farnum when he planned to slow down.

Farnum's reply: "If you don't do this a lot, you lose your touch, and I don't want to lose my touch. This is all too important."

In a 1984 interview with the Gazette, Farnum said he found it a challenge to sentence criminals "because each case is as different as a set of fingerprints."

Daley said he knows Farnum truly believed that. Daley said once, when he was a newly- appointed judge, he confided in Farnum about the enormous pressure he felt when sentencing criminals.

Daley said Farnum just shook his head and gave this advice:

"Understand that people sentence themselves. They sentence themselves with their body of history, and especially with the latest crime that they committed. It isn't you that sentences them."

"That was that one thing that helped me to understand my role as a judge," Daley said.

Daley said Farnum also taught others to seek the good in people.

"Some people, judges included, only see the negative side of people in situations," Daley said. "Judge Farnum always saw the positive in people. That came through in how he treated others. He was just a fine, fine man."

Last updated: 3:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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