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Judge Theresa Brennan

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.Theresa Brennan is a district court judge for the 53rd District Court in Michigan. She was appointed to the office by former Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2005, and elected in 2006 and 2008. Brennan was most recently re-elected on November 4, 2014, for another six-year term, commencing on January 1, 2015, and expiring on December 31, 2020

 

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Livingston County District Judge Theresa Brennan faces misconduct allegations that include perjury, failing to disclose personal ties to parties involved in her cases, requiring her staff to do personal tasks for her and mistreating people who came before her in her courtroom.  As the evidentiary hearing began Monday, the commission said it plans to add destroying evidence and obstruction of justice to the list of accusations

See the many news reports and victim testimony videos here

A retired judge appointed by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission is hearing the evidence in Livonia. Depending on his findings, the commission could eventually ask the state Supreme Court to discipline Brennan.

In the most recent 87-page complaint, the Judicial Tenure Commission said Brennan, among other issues:

  • Failed to disqualify herself or fully disclose her close personal relationship with a Michigan State Police detective involved in a murder case she presided over in 2013. She also failed to disclose conflicts and disqualify herself in other cases, the Judicial Tenure Commission said;
  • Failed to disqualify herself from hearing her own divorce case until six days after she knew the complaint had been filed;
  • Used improper demeanor in court;
  • Directed court staff to do personal tasks for her on court time;
  • Required staff to work on her re-election campaign during work hours;
  • Made misrepresentations during court hearings and in her contact with the tenure commission;
  • Committed perjury.

 

 

Accused murderer 'guilty' before judge held trial

Kristi Cox, Brennan's former secretary and court reportertestified that Brennan believed murder suspect Jerome Kowalski was guilty before Brennan presided over his trial because a detective told her so. Cox said Brennan made the comment after Cox commented she found it odd there was no evidence Kowalski was guilty in the police interviews she was transcribing in preparation for the trial. She said Brennan told her she knew Kowalski did it because a state police investigator she had a close personal relationship with told her so. One of the key allegations against Brennan is that she failed to disqualify herself from hearing the case and did not disclose that she was having an affair with that detective, former State Police Lt. Sean Furlong, during the trial.

A 'hostile' courtroom and an attorney arrest

Cox described Brennan as "hostile, demeaning, degrading and belittling" toward her, while another court employee testified Brennan had a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality. Lisa Bobe, who worked for Brennan as court reporter and secretary, said Brennan could be nice one moment and difficult the next, depending on the judge's mood. On Friday, business attorney Margaret Kutzweil called Brennan's behavior "wicked" and "appalling." Another attorney, Carol Lathrop-Roberts, described Brennan as "the most disrespectful judge I have ever been in front of" and "a black smear on the judiciary." Lathrop-Roberts, who was jailed by Brennan for contempt in 2017 when she tried to admit evidence in a trial, said Brennan refused to listen to her and repeatedly told her to stop talking and sit down.

 

PTSD and pay cuts

Cox, now the chief deputy county clerk, testified she has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder caused by working with Brennan. Amy Krieg, who is now an attorney for Habitat for Humanity, testified she left litigation work over Brennan's treatment of her and her clients. In a 2014 case, she said she feared for her clients after Brennan threatened to have them arrested. Cox took a two-level pay cut to get out of Brennan's court in Brighton, Livingston County Circuit Court Judge David Reader testified during the hearing.

'I have no memory of that'

Brennan appeared to struggle with her memory while on the witness stand Monday and Tuesday, saying dozens of times she couldn't recall details about conversations, social situations or court matters. Some of her responses: "I don't know," "I don't remember that," "I have no memory of that," "I can't say yes, I can't say no," and "I'm not relying on my memory; I'm over 60." 

JTC challenges Brennan's truthfulness

Lynn Helland, executive director of the tenure commission and the prosecutor in the hearing, questioned witnesses about Brennan's truthfulness. Cox said she found Brennan to be untruthful in "various situations." Shawn Ryan, an assistant Livingston County prosecutor, said she once would have described Brennan as truthful but has since changed her opinion based on "all I know and what I heard." Several attorneys did not describe Brennan as untruthful but said she didn't disclose personal relationships they felt were relevant to cases. Kowalski's attorney and the lead prosecutor in his murder, Chief Assistant Prosector Pamela Maas, each testified they did not know the full extent of Brennan's relationship with the Furlong, the Michigan State Police detective who investigated the case. Had they known, it would have had a significant impact on the case, they said.

Tangled relationships surface

Besides the affair between Brennan and Furlong, who is now retired from the State Police, Kim Morrison, a former video clerk for Judge David Reader who became an attorney and then an assistant prosecutor in Livingston County in 2016, admitted to an affair with MSP's Chris Corriveau that began in 2007 and ended in 2013. And Assistant Prosecutor Ryan testified that she had sex with Furlong, but said it was not an affair. There also was testimony that judicial staff, law enforcement officers and attorneys went on various trips together and with Brennan. 

 

Employees did campaign work, personal chores for Brennan

Jessica Sharpe, Brennan's former law clerk, testified that she, Cox and Brennan worked on answering election questionnaires during work hours. Sharpe said the women ordered concert tickets for Brennan while the judge was on the bench, testimony that drew a reaction from Brennan, who mouthed "wow" from her seat in the courtroom. “I would run errands, I would go to her house and take care of things,” Sharpe said. Cox testified that she worked on Brennan’s re-election campaign during work hours in addition to paying Brennan’s bills and other tasks, something Brennan testified Cox volunteered to do. Cox said she didn't volunteer. Sharpe testified she spent three days staining Brennan's deck at the judge's request.

Destruction of evidence?

On the first day of the hearing, Helland said he intends to add additional allegations, including destruction of evidence. During the first four days of the hearing, he questioned Brennan and her staff about the judge's cell phones and the potential removal of accounts and information. Brennan testified she asked her staff to assist her in transferring accounts and items on her phone. Several staff members said Brennan asked them how to remove items.

Skinny-dipping pool party (Forum Note: Don't know why this matters??)

Brennan and at least one other witness were questioned about a get-together at Brennan's home that involved skinny dipping. Brennan testified she "got into the pool with my bathing suit and got out of the pool with my bathing suit." But Shawn Ryan, an assistant Livingston County prosecutor, recalled it differently, saying all of the women in the pool took off their bathing suits, including Brennan. "It was a collective decision to take our bathing suits off," Ryan testified. Brennan's attorney, Dennis Kolenda, pressed Ryan on her own actions that day. "You opened your towel by the pool and danced naked, didn't you?" he asked. Ryan said she got out of the pool with a towel, and while on the deck, opened it, flashing a couple people, but flatly denied dancing naked.

 

We haven’t yet seen much of Brennan’s defense

Brennan told the Judicial Tenure Commission in a 47-page response in August that she may have made errors in her rulings, but "error is not misconduct." Brennan denies requesting any county employee to complete personal tasks for her while they were being paid by the county and said she told them the rules. Writing that she was notoriously "absentminded" about paying her bills, she noted that Cox and other employees “Would take those bills on their own and make payments or deal with creditors to avoid late charges. She both said that Sharpe, whose last name was Yakel at one time, did not perform legal research for her because she was “incompetent.” And she said the commission is prohibited “from taking action against a judge for decisions made by that judge, even if incorrect...unless the judge did not act in good faith and with due diligence, or a decision reflects persistent incompetence or some disability that prevents the performance of judicial duties." Thus far, all the witnesses have been called by Helland. Kolenda is expected to call witnesses this week to bolster Brennan’s defense.

What's next

Testimony will resume Monday in the evidentiary hearing. William Giovan, a retired judge who is hearing the evidence in Livonia, has scheduled two weeks of court time to hear the testimony. Brennan's attorney has yet to call witnesses. And there may be additional testimony on the allegations that were added Monday. Giovan said he wants the hearing to finish by Thanksgiving.

State representatives call for impeachment

Local state representatives Lana Theis, Hank Vaupel and Jim Runestad introduced a resolution Wednesday calling for the impeachment of Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan.

If the resolution is approved by the state House an impeachment trial would take place in the Senate. If convicted, Brennan would be removed from office. 

“The troubling pattern of improper conduct exhibited by Judge Brennan has resulted in her losing the trust and confidence of her colleagues and the public,” Theis,R-Brighton said in a release, “The people of Livingston County deserve better. If she won’t resign, it’s time for the House to move forward with the impeachment process.”

See the many news reports and victim testimony videos here

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