Fact-finder named in case against Livingston Co. judge
The Michigan Supreme Court appointed a retired Wayne County Circuit Court judge Thursday to serve as a master in disciplinary proceedings against a Livingston County judge accused of official misconduct.
Judge Theresa Brennan also has been barred from hearing cases in 53rd District Court "immediately and until further notice," according to a letter signed by Livingston County's chief judge.
Retired Judge William J. Giovan will serve as a fact-finder to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission’s formal complaint against Brennan.
She is accused of judicial misconduct and giving the "appearance of impropriety" in a multiple-court complaint that was released this week. Brennan is accused of having an affair with a Michigan State Police detective-sergeant who was a key witness in a murder trial Brennan was overseeing.
The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed the formal complaint Tuesday, saying that Brennan had engaged in conduct "that violated her obligations under the Michigan Canons of Judicial Conduct and the Michigan Rules of Conduct."
The complaint says that even after Brennan was assigned to the 2009 murder case, she had "substantial contact" with State Police Detective Sgt. Sean Furlong, who was a witness 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, the commission said Brennan's contact with the officer included social outings such as dinner and drinks at bars and restaurants as well as shopping trips and sporting events.
The judge also is accused of impropriety for failing to disclose close social relationships with an attorney and a court employee whose cases came before the judge.
The commission also accuses Brennan of having court staff do personal tasks, such as making appointments for manicures and waxing, while on court time.
No date has been set for the proceedings.
“The Court has the utmost confidence in Judge Giovan’s ability to handle this matter with fairness and expedition on behalf of the people of Livingston County and the people of Michigan,” Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman said in a news release Thursday.
On Wednesday, the chief judge of the Livingston County Court announced that cases originally scheduled to be heard by Brennan have been reassigned.
"We recognize Judge Brennan is entitled to due process of law and a hearing on the allegations against her. However, judges are held to a higher standard of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved," Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh said in the letter dated June 13. "Further, the citizens of Livingston County deserve to know that their elected judges are beyond reproach in the performance of their duties. Accordingly, pursuant to (Michigan Court Rule 8.110) and in deliberation with the other Livingston County judges, Judge Brennan's caseload has been removed and re-assigned effective immediately and until further notice."
Cavanaugh added "... we value the trust and confidence that the citizens of Livingston County have vested in us. We assure the residents of Livingston County that we will continue to carry out the duties and responsibilities of our offices and afford all litigants and attorneys the professional, timely, impartial, and independent administration of justice that they deserve."
Giovan was chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court in 2008-09 and presiding judge of the court's civil division during his 39-year judicial career.