The former courtroom prosecutor, felony desk negotiator, and grand jury administrative assistant today is trading his law books for fishing poles, shotguns, hunting dogs and an endless number of home-improvement projects assigned by his wife and daughters.
“I started out wanting to go into business law, but I found criminal law was just too fascinating,” McFarland recalls. “It wasn’t from watching Perry Mason or anything like that. I just found criminal law to be much more interesting than business law.”
After law school graduation in 1983 from the University of Memphis, he learned of an opening in the Public Defender’s Office where he worked for three years.
“My father-in-law (MPD Capt. Charlie Denegri) told me about the opening because I had married his daughter and he wanted me to have a job,” says McFarland. “I got a lot of courtroom experience real quick. After three years, I left and went into business law, but didn’t like it. That lasted for nine months and then a couple prosecutors I knew suggested I talk to (Dist. Atty.) Gen. (Hugh) Stanton. I did and he took a chance on me.”
So in 1988, he was back in his element, though this time on the prosecution side, learning from colleagues such as Bobby Carter (“he was such a good lawyer”) and Louis Montesi (“he was such an even-handed manager in General Sessions prosecution”) and Eddie Peterson (“who taught me a lot.”)
“There were so many along the way that I can’t begin to name them all,” McFarland says. “Carter Myers was the smartest lawyer I ever worked with. He was so measured and methodical in dealing with legal issues. I’d ask Carter a question and he’d reach around, grab a book and then together we’d start reading the black-letter law.
“What I’ve loved best about every one of the people in this office is that they are trying so hard to do the right thing. It’s never been measured in wins. The office has always had high ethical standards.”
He recalls one trial in which the jury was seated and he’d already put on several witnesses when it became clear to him he had to fold up the tent.
“The victim had told me she now wasn’t sure the defendant was the one who committed the crime,” McFarland recalls, adding that he first took his concerns to then-Dist. Atty. John Pierotti. “I had reasonable doubt and it needed to be dismissed, but I still needed to explain myself.”
Says his current boss, Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich: “We not only are losing three decades of legal knowledge and experience, we are losing one of the best teachers this office has ever had. Like many others, I was trained by Johnny when I came to criminal court and tried my first jury trial with him. I still seek his advice on issues. I hope he still answers my calls---and I hope he still brings us his legendary King Cake on Fat Tuesday.”
He says he will not be lacking for things to do when he leaves the office, as his wife, Lisa, and grown daughters, Rebecca and Kaitlin, have plenty of projects waiting for him.
“My daughter just emailed me and asked whether my chain saw could cut a stump that is about 11 inches in diameter,” McFarland says. “I told I thought it could and that she could come get it this weekend.”
A clarifying email then quickly followed.
“Then I got it,” he says. “She wanted me to come over this weekend and cut it. I told her I’d be there.”