Convictions vacated in case overseen by embattled Livingston County judge

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan

The man whose double-homicide trial was overseen by embattled Livingston County Judge Theresa Brennan now has a chance for new proceedings.

Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart signed an order Tuesday vacating the convictions for Jerome Kowalski tied to the 2008 slayings of his brother and sister-in-law.

Brennan, a judge since 2005, testified last fall during a hearing before the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission to address allegations of failing to disclose a relationship with a state police officer during the trial. 

Kowalski was serving a life sentence in the deaths. Immediately after the order, he was transferred from a state prison in Lapeer County to Livingston County jail, said Peter Van Hoek, the lawyer who had been representing him. 

“The family is very happy” about the development, Van Hoek said. “This has been a long time coming. We’re all very pleased.”

Allegations against Brennan surfaced in depositions related to her 2017 divorce case.

Last month, then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office charged Brennan with perjury, destroying evidence and misconduct in office related to the scandal. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel declined a last-minute plea by the attorney who represented Brennan's husband to file additional charges against the judge for concealing her relationship with the state police officer. 

The state Judicial Tenure Commission also recently concluded Brennan violated provisions of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The commission report noted she failed to disqualify herself from the Kowalski double-homicide trial, though she was involved in a relationship with the lead detective, as well as cases in which her friend represented one of the parties.

Following the commission’s report, Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney William Valliencourt announced he would meet with Van Hoek to vacate the convictions and grant a new trial.

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

Her caseload was removed in June and she is not currently presiding over cases.