Livingston County judge seeks to stop removal

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

Embattled Livingston County Judge Theresa Brennan is asking the state Supreme Court to reject a Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission recommendation to remove her from the bench due to alleged misconduct. 

Brennan’s legal team filed documents challenging the request, saying it was “irreparably tainted” by claims that are “the product of lingering sexism.”

“… Each of the JTC’s findings of misconduct by Judge Brennan are erroneous,” her attorney, Dennis Kolenda, wrote in a lengthy supporting brief.

Reached Thursday night, Lynn Helland, the tenure commission’s executive director, said: “We disagree and will be filing a brief to that effect.”

The plan is to have the response within 21 days, he said.

Brennan, who was appointed to the 53rd District Court in 2005, has been the subject of an investigation and state ethics proceedings related to allegations that she had a close relationship with a Michigan State Police investigator, Sean Furlong.

He was a key witness in the 2013 murder trial of Jerome Kowalski. Prosecutors plan to retry Kowalski, whose convictions were vacated, because of the scandal.

After reviewing hearing transcripts, exhibits and oral arguments, the commission determined that Brennan failed to disclose relevant facts regarding ties to Furlong.

Brennan also was accused of tampering with evidence in her divorce proceedings and ordering court employees to perform personal tasks for her during work hours.

"Whatever may be the correct standard of what a judge can properly ask of an employee, Judge Brennan went far beyond it," the commission’s recommendation last month said. "The evidence showed that (Brennan) required her staff to perform personal tasks ... such as taking her car to the dealership, refueling her car, paying her bills, waiting at her house for cable television to be installed and staining the deck of (her) home."

Brennan should pay $35,570 in costs and expenses, the commission determined. 

A June 19 hearing is scheduled before the state Supreme Court to hear the commission petition that Brennan be removed for one six-year term.

The high court in February suspended the judge, who hadn’t heard cases since last June, but ruled she would continue to receive $143,844 annual salary and benefits.

In the filing Thursday, Brennan’s attorney said the judge and Furlong “did not have a sexual relationship until well after her involvement with Kowalski had ended, which was in early March 2013."

Kolenda rejected claims that Brennan had deleted information from her iPhone after her husband filed for divorce, then lied about it during depositions in the case.

The attorney said her husband’s business provided service for the phone and he wanted it back, so Brennan chose another from AT&T, whose employee transferred the device data to the new one.

“Moving data from one phone to another phone is hardly perverting, changing or corrupting the data,” Kolenda wrote. 

His filing said the judge’s “staff did undertake some ... personal tasks for her, but she never required anyone to do so — they volunteered or, when asked, agreed to do so —and none of the tasks which were performed interfered with the staff fulfilling their duties with the court. Hence, Judge Brennan did not engage in misconduct.”

In December, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office charged Brennan with perjury, destroying evidence and misconduct in officel.

A preliminary exam on those offenses, which carry up to 15 years in prison, is scheduled for August 25.

Brennan remains free on a $30,000 bond.