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Royal Oak settles with woman in judicial dispute

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — City officials have agreed to a $24,000 separation agreement with a female court employee who allegedly was intimately involved with a judge in the city.

City attorney David W. Gillam told the Royal Oak City Commission he was contacted by the woman’s attorney “about a month ago” concerning claims the lawyer and his client felt she had against District Judge Terrence Brennan. The attorney also proposed the idea of a separation agreement to leave her job.

“We (city commission) discussed this and have authorized our insurer to make the payment,” Gillam said Wednesday.

The panel discussed the settlement under “attorney client privilege and pending litigation” during a closed door session before Monday’s regular meeting. The agreement was added to the agenda and unanimously approved without discussion or debate at the end of the public meeting. The vote was noted in the meeting’s minutes.

Gillam declined to discuss “potential claims” which he had asked the city’s insurer, Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, to investigate and, if appropriate, to negotiate a voluntary separation settlement with the woman’s attorney. He said as part of the agreement the woman, who worked for Brennan, will drop any claims against the city, the court and its employees. Her court employment ends at the end of this week, he said.

The woman’s attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Royal Oak’s district court is funded by the city, unlike other courts that get money from various sources.

In earlier emails between Gillam and city officials obtained by The Detroit News, the alleged “intimate” relationship between the woman and Brennan surfaced during an investigation of whether she had received preferential treatment at work.

Brennan went on a paid administrative leave in early October for “personal reasons” according to court officials as the State Court Administrative Office investigated the matter. Brennan, who has not returned to the bench, was unopposed in November’s election, excluding a write-in campaign by David Poulton.

Brennan, on the bench since 1991, easily won re-election.

In one of Gillam’s emails, he informed city commissioners that rather than contest the allegations, Brennan planned to retire in January and should he be re-elected, he would step down in January 2015.

“In exchange, formal disciplinary action will not be taken against him by the Judicial Tenure Commission,” Gillam wrote.

As part of a statewide cost-cutting measure, court consolidation with Berkley is expected to begin in 2015. In one email, Gillam said the matter had been discussed at a meeting between court and city officials and representatives for the Michigan Supreme Court.

“If the terms of this settlement fall into place, pursuant to the amendments to state law providing for district court consolidation, as of January 3, 2015, Judge Brennan’s seat will be eliminated and the 44th district Court will serve the cities of Royal Oak and Berkley with two judges, rather than three,” Gillam wrote.

Brennan, who is paid $138,000 a year, is fully vested in a pension that would pay him nearly $89,000 a year, according to court officials.

Repeated attempts to reach Brennan and his attorney for comment have been unsuccessful. Neither have returned phone calls to The News.

One of the district’s retired judges, Daniel Sawicki, has been handling Brennan’s docket in his absence and Judge Derek Meinecke, a former assistant prosecuting attorney elected to the Royal Oak bench in 2012, was named the district’s chief judge by the court administrative office Oct. 13.

District Court Administrator Kevin Sutherland would not comment on the matter other than to report Brennan was on leave and a court consolidation is set to occur next year.

Paul J. Fischer executive director of the Judicial Tenure Commission which investigates alleged wrongdoing by judges for the State Court Administrative Office, said there was no formal complaint on record regarding Judge Brennan.

The Judicial Tenure Commission spent several months earlier this year investigating multiple allegations of absenteeism on the bench and questions about expenses filed by veteran Novi District Judge Dennis Powers. After initially contesting the allegations in court filings, Powers retired in early September “to spend more time with his family” before there were any public hearings on issues or findings.

Two weeks later, the Judicial Tenure Commission dismissed its probe against Powers.

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