Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan is no longer hearing cases amid the release of an explosive misconduct complaint from the Judicial Tenure Commission.
The Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) is the agency that holds state judges, magistrates and court referees accountable for alleged misconduct.
Livingston County Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh made the decision to immediately take away Brennan’s caseload “until further notice.” Cavanaugh has indicated that she acted pursuant to MCR 8.110(C) – also known as the “chief judge rule” – after discussing the situation with the other Livingston County judges.
In a damning June 12, 2018 complaint, the JTC set forth an exhaustive list of allegations against Brennan, including: 1) engaging in conduct that is clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice; 2) failing to respect and observe the law; 3) misusing her office for personal advantage or gain; 4) failing to maintain high standards of conduct; 5) failing to show respect and follow the law; and 6) allowing social and other relationships to influence her conduct or judgment.
The JTC complaint stems primarily from the trial of Jerome Kowalski, who is serving a life sentence for murder. During Kowalski’s trial, the testimony of Sean Furlong, a Michigan State Police investigator, was of critical importance. The JTC has asserted that Furlong and Brennan were having an affair during Kowalski’s trial, but that Brennan refused to recuse herself from the case when she was asked to do so.
Brennan has been accused of inappropriate conduct in the past, particularly when it comes to lawyers who appear in her courtroom. In 2014, Howell attorney Tom Kizer filed a lawsuit against Brennan when she refused to release video recordings of certain court proceedings. According to Kizer, the videos showed Brennan’s alleged rude and demeaning behavior while on the bench.
Meanwhile, Senator Joe Hune (R-Fowlerville) has called on Brennan to “do the right thing” and resign. Noting the JTC began investigating Brennan more than a year ago, Hune said the formal process is simply taking too long. “I am tired of our citizens taking it on the chin,” Hune reportedly stated. “We have received complaints over the years of how she treats people.”
The other Livingston District Court judges have been reassigned to Brennan’s cases. Retired Livingston County Judge A. John Pikkarainen has also been appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to help with the court’s caseload.
It should be noted, however, that the removal of Brennan’s caseload may not only impact the Livingston District Court – it can affect other court proceedings as well. What happens to the cases decided by Brennan that are currently pending appeal to the Circuit Court, the Michigan Court of Appeals or the Michigan Supreme Court? Moreover, even though Brennan was elected as a district court judge, she frequently sat as a circuit court judge – such as on the Kowalski felony murder case and on many family law matters. In fact, Brennan was recently reversed by the Court of Appeals in Sullivan v Sullivan, COA Docket 330543 & 334273, issued May 17, 2018 – family law case – and the Court of Appeals ordered that the case be remanded to a different judge. Brennan has decided many other family law matters, including child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and divorce case that are currently pending on appeal. She also threw attorney Carol Lathrop-Roberts in jail who, while representing her client in a paternity action – attempted to explain the mandatory statutory requirements.
In the meantime, retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge William J. Giovan is serving as special master in Brennan’s case. He is set to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the JTC complaint and will send his findings to the JTC. After reviewing Giovan’s final report, the JTC will then make a discipline recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Once the Michigan Supreme Court receives the JTC’s discipline recommendation, it will hear arguments in the case and make a final decision.