Livingston Co. judge accused of misconduct over affair
A Livingston County judge has been accused of official misconduct, partly for allegedly failing to disclose a personal relationship with a Michigan State Police trooper who testified in a murder case she presided over.
The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a formal complaint Tuesday against 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan for engaging in conduct "that violated her obligations under the Michigan Canons of Judicial Conduct and the Michigan Rules of Conduct."
The Michigan Judicial Commission said even after Brennan was assigned to the 2009 murder case, she had "substantial contact" with State Police Detective Sgt. Sean Furlong, who was a key witness in the case against Jerome Walter Kowalski, who was convicted in the 2008 murders of his brother and sister-in-law. Kowalski is serving a life sentence.
In its complaint against the judge, released Tuesday, the commission said Brennan's contact with the officer included social outings such as dinner and drinks at bars and restaurants, shopping trips and sporting events.
They acknowledged having an affair but insisted it didn’t start until after the trial.
According to the complaint, Furlong also made "multiple closed door visits to respondent's chambers."
On some of the occasions, according to the JTC complaint, Brennan paid for or provided food, drinks, event tickets, or other expenses on behalf of Furlong. The judge has said her relationships with Furlong and another detective were "nothing more than a friendship."
While Kowalski 's trial was pending before Brennan, she had numerous private telephone conversations with Furlong, including 239 calls between Nov. 3, 2011, and Dec. 28, 2012, according to the complaint. The judge also allegedly routinely exchanged texts with Furlong.
The Judicial Tenure Commission accuses Brennan of "appearance of impropriety" for failing to disclose "the nature of her contacts and friendship with Detective Sergeant Furlong while the Kowalski case was pending and assigned to her.'
Brennan is also accused of failing to disclose friendships with a local attorney who came before her in 44th District Court for litigation and for failing to disclose a close social relationship with a 53rd Court administrator and former chief court probation officer whose divorce the judge presided over.
The judge is also accused by the JTC of "improper demeanor." The commission alleges Brennan failed to be "patient, dignified and courteous" to lawyers who came before her in an official capacity.
Brennan also is charged by the JTC of directing staff to conduct her personal tasks on court time which, the commission says, included having court employees schedule or cancel the judge's appointments for manicures, pedicures and waxing as well as having staff find clothes for her online.
Thomas Kizer, a Livingston County attorney, sent Kowalski's attorney a letter about the alleged relationship between Brennan and the MSP detective.
Kizer, who later represented the judge's former husband, said Tuesday he raised the issue about the judge's relationships with Furlong and others because "it goes to the fairness of trial before this judge."
Efforts to reach Brennan were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Brennan was appointed to the bench in 2005. She was elected in 2006 to a two-year term and re-elected to six-year terms in 2008 and 2014.
No hearing date has been scheduled for the Judicial Tenure Commission's proceedings against Brennan. The Michigan Supreme Court has to appoint a special master, also known as a fact finder, for the case.
Associated Press contributed.