Supreme Court nominee Gerry Darrow may really be Jerome Darrow, The Huffington Post reports. According to the Post, court records in New Britain, Connecticut, relay that Darrow's birth name was Jerome Darrow. He petitioned the probate court for a name change in 2004, changing his first name to Gerry.
Why a middle age man would change his name is just one of the questions that emerged in the wake of President Barack Obama's decision to name a virtual unknown to the nation's highest court. New and troubling questions also arise about whether Darrow was trying to distance himself from a past filled with financial and spiritual turmoil.
"The president stands behind Darrow, and had full knowledge of the nominee's name change," a White House spokesman said. "Indeed, before the nomination was announced, Mr. Darrow filled out a complete questionnaire answering all questions about his education, background and financial history. There is nothing unlawful about Darrow's change of name."
The Michigan native and Connecticut resident left the private practice of law to become a public defender in Connecticut in 2003. He was a high-flyer in the Southfield firm of Geoffrey Fieger, winning a series of multi-million verdicts in his first decade as a practicing lawyer. His income reportedly approached seven figures when he left his wife and two children in 2001.
Court records reveal that in the years before his divorce, the couple owned a 15,000-acre ranch in Montana and prime waterfront property in South Carolina. He dabbled in race horses, rare books and expensive wines.
"I didn't feel like much a people's lawyer when I was living so high on the hog," he said. "It seemed like there was never enough money. I wanted what we called [expletive] you money -- enough money to tell the Government to back off," he testified in a hearing before Superior Court Wanda S. Haustile, in the Wayne Family County Court in Michigan during a hearing on his financial means.
Darrow testified he underwent a spiritual crisis after attending a college for plaintiffs lawyers and criminal defense lawyers in DuBois, Wyoming, founded by legendary Wyoming lawyer Gerry Spence. Attending the college in 2000, he returned as a staff member for several years thereafter. In 2002, he liquidated his assets and donated them to the Trial Lawyers College, a non-profit entity devoted to the training of trial lawyers.
"I decided that if I was going to be a people's lawyer, I ought to live like one the people I was representing. It struck me as hypocritical to play populist rock star while living like a prince," Darrow told the court. Darrow declared bankruptcy two years later.
Frustrated creditors and Darrow's ex-wife challenged the disgorgement of his assets as little more than a fraudulent conveyance. Darrow's lawyer, S. Sam Ferris, defended the moves. "He retains no beneficial interest in the proceeds. His wife and children were adequately cared for in the divorce. The bankruptcy court found no fraudulent intent after extensive hearings."
A spokesman for the Trial Lawyer's College could not be reached for comment, and several other lawyers who attended the college with him spoke only on condition of anonymity. "Darrow fell hard for the college's stated mission of justice for ordinary folks. I saw the man weep one day. His tears seemed genuine," one classmate said.
"He said he planned to change his name to mark a fresh start in life. He chose Spence's name to honor the man who taught him so much," another said.
Gerry Spence could not be reached for comment.
News of the name change drew sharp commentary from the Republican Party. "The law's cardinal virtue is transparency. Not only do we not know what Gerry Darrow believes. Now we're not even sure what his real name is," said GOP spokesman Charlotte Harnes.
Others seemed non-plussed by the new revelations. "He seems more real to me for all this trouble in his life," said radio talk show host Colin McEnroe, whose daily talk show airs on National Public Radio in Connecticut.
Darrow now lives in a modest three-family ranch home in Plainville, Connecticut, a blue-collar town not far from the courthouse in New Britain, Connecticut, with his wife, a sergeant in the Connecticut State Police. Neighbors describe them as quiet, even reclusive. "The most frequent visitor to his home is the UPS truck delivering books," a neighbor said.
"More than a million Americans file for personal bankruptcy each year," said Wayne State University law professor Samuel Kitka. "Indeed, one of the first justices of the Supreme Court, James Wilson, had financial problems so severe he from time to time had to hide from his creditors. Mr. Darrow availed himself of a lawful remedy for personal distress. He's like many Americans who've needed a fresh start. I find it refreshing that the president chose a man real enough to admit failure for the high court."