Report: Livingston judge violated judicial rules

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Livingston County Judge Theresa Brennan gives testimony during her judicial misconduct proceeding Monday in 16th District Court in Livonia.

A Livingston County judge violated several canons of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, according to an investigation for the state's Judicial Tenure Commission.

Judge Theresa Brennan failed to disqualify herself from a double-homicide trial because of her relationship with the lead detective, attempted to destroy evidence and failed to disqualify herself from cases in which her friend represented one of the parties, commission special master William Giovan wrote in a report released Thursday.

Brennan also persistently abused attorneys, witnesses, litigants and employees; lied under oath; and directed employees to perform her personal business and campaign activity during work hours, Giovan found.

Perhaps most egregious of the misconduct, he wrote, was Brennan’s failure to disqualify herself from the 2008 double murder trial, prior to which she logged at least 1,500 phone calls “of a social nature” with Michigan State Police Detective Sean Furlong.

The relationship started sometime before her birthday in 2007 and concluded in late 2013, indicating that "by the time of the disqualification motion and for a significant period before, Judge Brennan had a romance with detective Furlong. Yes, a romance," Giovan wrote. 

“It was not only serious misconduct, but also one that infected the integrity of a serious criminal proceeding,” Giovan wrote.

The report prompted the Livingston County prosecutor on Thursday to announce he would meet with convict Jerome Kowalski's attorney to discuss a court order vacating his convictions and granting him a new trial. 

"We will once again present the evidence to a fair and impartial jury for them to make the determination of guilt or innocence," Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney William Vailliencourt said in a statement.

Rep. Lana Theis was one of three lawmakers to ask for a new trial for Kowalski this week and was happy with Vailliencourt's decision.

"I think it's undeniable that he didn't have a fair and impartial trial and that is his constitutional right," the Brighton Township Republican said. 

Since June, the Judicial Tenure Commission has been investigating and taking testimony on Brennan’s case, including more than eight days of public testimony from 16 witnesses.

The commission may use Giovan’s findings in recommendations for discipline to the Michigan Supreme Court. Actions can range from censure to removal, retirement or suspension from office.

The report comes a few days after Brennan was arraigned in 53rd District Court on charges of perjury, destroying evidence and misconduct in office.

Allegations against Brennan surfaced during her 2017 divorce case after reports she had failed to disclose a personal relationship she had with Furlong, the lead detective in the Kowalski murder case. That relationship surfaced in depositions in her divorce case.

Brennan, who served as president of the Michigan District Judges Association earlier this year, also was the subject of impeachment articles filed by Livingston-area legislators in late September.

The report was a long time coming and a sign that justice was being done, said Theis, one of the Livingston County lawmakers who filed the impeachment articles against Brennan. 

"My goal was to help the JTC understand that we were very serious about this, that it was a huge problem and that movement needed to be done," she said.

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