Here’s why the Judge Brennan case is Livingston County’s biggest political scandal ever

District Court Judge Theresa Brennan
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Livingston County has seen other political scandals before, but nothing like this.

This current episode involving 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan is Livingston County’s biggest political scandal ever, and nothing else is even close. It has everything – sex, murder, lies, cover-ups. Maybe even a judge who’s going to end up going to prison.

If you haven’t been following this case – and I don’t know why you’d be reading this piece if you haven’t – here’s the quick version of what’s happening.

Back in 2013, Judge Brennan presided over the double murder trial of a man named Jerome Kowalski, who ended up being found guilty. Judge Brennan had an affair with the lead witness in the case, Michigan State Police Lt. Sean Furlong – an affair that Brennan and Furlong said didn’t start until AFTER the murder trial.

Now the Michigan State Police and most likely the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission are investigating, and just this week, police burst into Brennan’s courtroom while she was in session and seized all the computers and a bunch of other stuff. No charges have been brought, and nothing is close to being resolved, but what we DO know and what Judge Brennan’s legal team has already admitted elevates this to the status of Livingston County’s biggest political scandal ever. And from all appearances, it’s only going to get worse.

Also, judging from the comments that are all over Facebook, Judge Theresa Brennan is Livingston County’s most despised public official ever. Again, no one else is even close. We’ve seen a lot of political hate in Livingston County before – people who hated Mike Rogers because he’s a Republican, people who hated Hillary Clinton because she’s a Democrat , etc.– but nothing like this.

Look at the Facebook comments when WHMI posts a story about the Brennan case, and you’ll see what I mean. There are scores of people in Livingston County who deeply despise her. It would seem that most of these are people who appeared in her courtroom and lost, but that doesn’t explain away the level of hatred people feel toward her.

We have plenty of other judges in Livingston County who have ruled against people, and none of them come close to generating this level of hatred. People for years have ripped Brennan for being a mean, vindictive, nasty judge, and they’re reveling in her troubles now. They’re beyond ecstatic that her career and her life are going down in flames right now, especially since it’s all of her own doing.

I’ve known Theresa Brennan for years, going back to 1986, when I became the editor of the Brighton Argus at the tender young age of 26. One of my duties as editor back then involved covering Brighton City Council meetings, and Brennan’s father, John, was the city attorney. Theresa Brennan worked at her father’s firm, and she often attended the meetings as the official counsel of record. I’d call her up to get clarifications or quotes for stories from time to time. I was still one of the editors at the paper when she became a judge in 2005, and the editorial board interviewed her numerous times through the years. But I have to note that unlike a lot of other people, I have no personal animosity toward Judge Brennan. I’ve never been in her courtroom in any capacity, and I’ve never had a bad experience with her.

By way of full disclosure, I’ll also say that the guy who ran against her in 2014, Dennis Brewer, is a friend of mine, and I fully and vocally supported his candidacy. I voted for Dennis, and it seems like now, there are a whole lot of other people who wish they had voted for Dennis, too. All that said, I’ve never seen anything like this in all my 34 years of covering and watching Livingston County’s political scene.

I have no inside information as to what’s happening with this scandal. All I know is what I’ve read and seen in the media. We’ve heard rumors for years about Brennan’s life outside the courtroom, and now we know that a lot of that was true. At the very least, she had more than one affair, including one with a prominent local cop. Judges having affairs with cops doesn’t look good, no matter what else might be happening.

It’s going to be interesting to see where this all ends up, but even if no charges are filed, it’s difficult to see how her career survives this. She’s been a judge in this county for 12 years, and I can’t see how she makes it to 13.

Her whole career as a judge is a fascinating one, by the way. She first ran for judge back in 2000, I believe, and she waged an extremely nasty and expensive campaign against incumbent Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille, one of the nicer people you’d ever want to meet. Brennan spent an ungodly amount of money on the race, but Latreille beat her. As we’ll see in a bit, it’s nearly impossible to beat a sitting judge in Livingston County.

Brennan didn’t give up the judicial ambitions, though, and she finally became a judge in 2005 when District Judge Mike Hegarty died. And the main reason that Brennan became a judge is because she’s a Democrat. When a judicial opening pops up, you see, the governor gets to appoint a replacement. Democratic governors always pick Democrats, and Republican governors always pick Republicans. That’s the way it works.

Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, was the governor at the time, so she surveyed all the interested Democratic attorneys in Livingston County to see which one would replace Hegarty. Brennan was an easy choice. She was a Democratic activist who had worked hard for Granholm’s election in 2002, so Granholm rewarded her with the judgeship.

Brennan had to stand for election in 2006, and her opponent was Howell attorney Jay Drick, who tried to make Brennan’s political affiliation the central theme of his campaign. He figured that heavily Republican Livingston County would never vote for a Democrat like Brennan.

Well, as we all found out, incumbent judges simply don’t lose in Livingston County – no matter how much of a Democrat they might be. There are so many inherent advantages that incumbent judges have, including the ridiculous rule that stipulates an incumbent judge gets to have “Judge of the District Court” below their name on the ballot. (That’s a stupid and unfair law that needs to be changed.)

Brennan beat Drick in 2006, so Drick ran against her again in 2008. He lost again in 2008.
By now, Theresa Brennan was a hero to Livingston County’s Democratic establishment, who worked hard for her re-election in 2014 against Dennis Brewer.

That 2014 election featured one of the more bizarre political debates I’ve ever seen. The Livingston Daily Press & Argus hosted a debate at the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts between Brennan and Brewer, and they had two tables set up on the stage for the candidates to sit at.

As the debate began, Brewer sat at his table, but Brennan announced that she was refusing to sit. She was going to stand for the entire debate. She never gave a reason, but most folks figured it was because she wanted to look taller than Brewer.

In any case, it was a bizarre scene – one candidate sitting at a table, one candidate standing. That election actually ended up being pretty close, but Brennan prevailed by a few thousand votes, much to the delight of the Livingston County Democratic establishment.

And then this happened.

Since this whole sordid tale started unfolding a few months ago, I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of another Livingston County political scandal that rivals it. The closest one I can recall took place in 1989, when Sheriff Dennis DeBurton was charged with improperly touching a waitress on the rear end at a Christmas party at the Chemung Hills Country Club in Genoa Township.

It was huge news back then. DeBurton ended up going to trial, where he was found not guilty, but that was small potatoes compared to this.

DeBurton, by the way, never forgave me for the way the newspaper aggressively covered that case. When my job was eliminated and I was laid off by the newspaper in 2009 – 20 years after this happened – DeBurton wrote me an e-mail basically saying that he was happy I lost my job. I thanked him for thinking of me.

We had another judicial scandal in 1986, when Judge Michael Merritt was accused of commingling some funds, but again, it was nothing compared to this.And we’ve had plenty of local political scandals in Livingston County through the years – mostly township board recalls and whatnot – but nothing that rivals what Judge Brennan is experiencing. We don’t know what’s coming next in this scandal, or what’s going to happen to Judge Brennan.

But we do know this: When this piece in the Livingston Post makes it to Facebook, there are going to be plenty of comments.

About Buddy Moorehouse 101 Articles

Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

14 Comments

  1. I saw this Judge in court. I’m a professional businessman and executive. I have never, ever seen such rude and arrogant behavior by anyone in a position of authority. Beyond her unbelievable nastiness, this judge simply did not follow the law. Attorneys would point our Michigan Court Rules and Michigan Compiled Laws to her, citing the actual rules or laws, and this woman would say things like “I don’t care – if you don’t like my ruling, file an appeal.” The things this so-called “judge” did to people should never happen in an American court room. She deserves the very worst possible outcome after the lives she has damaged.

  2. I’ve had the self-inflicted opportunity to sit in her court-room. When I showed up with quality counsel, they kept her in line. Looking back, my lawyer was wise to take the opportunity to finish up with Judge Reader instead. The frightening part was the disparity and irregularity of judgments against men and women. Two operating on a suspended license cases (both non-payment of tickets)- one got a fix-it, the other 30 days on Highlander way.

  3. I sat in on a case or two watching this woman conduct herself in a courtroom is absolutely rediculous.She has absolutely no class and no professional character what so ever.After seeing her handle a couple cases I was wondering how she even became a judge myself?Now people can say what they want in printed ink all day and it doesn’t make things true at all but this I saw with my own eyes and never paid any attention on what people said about her in the community.Now I see why.I also believe in treating everyone equal and with respect….This is something else she doesn’t seem to do.

    • Excellent cite, Michael. That trial went beyond this in my mind.

  4. Intriguing article. I have to agree that social media will be sucked in, but so will karma. And I believe that there is a side to every story. But again remembering that we will all face that head on, wheather good or bad someday.
    Do you know anyone who would ever like a Judge that was “mean or vindictive”? That’s the unfortunate part of their jobs.
    I do pray that God will have justice on this trial, either way.

  5. Judge Latrielle was a good, honest, and fair man. This lady is a power abusing nut job. Her behavior towards defendants in her courtroom is all the more ironic considering her own behavior. Then again, anyone who knows anything about demonrats, err, sorry, democrats, knows they are hypocrites at their core, (didn’t this adulterers start a Catholic services program?! Nice).

    Anyways – there are several true and accurate representations of this, “judges” behavior in the article linked below. I’ve seen it myself, observing a case in her courtroom. Hopefully this ends with her being run off to some far corner of the Earth, where she can no longer abuse her fellow human beings.

    http://www.livingstondaily.com/story/news/politics/elections/livingston-county/2014/10/21/attorneys-say-two-sides-district-judge/17638995/

    Philo Bedo

    P.S. I do believe there was a significant exchange of money between her and or her husband and granholm shortly before she was given her current position?

    • I have to step on your toes, sir. Hiding behind a fictitious name while throwing out questionable accusations should not be allowed the light of print. I do also disagree with the remarks about whether the article itself is journalism. Mr Moorehouse did nothing wrong in his article, and was up front about his perspective and his stance. Right or wrong eventually the truth will prevail and while that may cost someone I consider a friend her career at least at that point the truth will be on the table. Until then, unless you are a perfect person be careful with how you throw comments around.

  6. I have to say this. I do not know this judge and have never been in her court room or know anyone who has. Im also a Republican, so this is certainly not political. But sir…this article is NOT journalism. This is nothing more than what is written in a gossip column, and its sickening.

  7. Judge Brennen is a disgrace to the robe and needs to be taken down.

  8. Interesting article, with viewpoints given in a charitable manner. I have not resided in Livingston County in many years, so while the scandal appears titillating, that’s not what grabbed my attention as I read it.

    What rang the bell in my train of thought was your comment about becoming Editor of the Brighton Argus back in 1986.

    My Father, Paul Eugene Champion was a partner/owner/Editor of the Brighton Argus when I was still a very young child, and before we moved westward from Brighton to Howell in the early 1960’s.

    I was too young to remember any goings on with regards to the paper at that time, but later in his life he always enjoyed talking about all the friends he had made while he owned the publication.

    And may God bless Judge Brennan, because it looks like she’s going to need His intervention and mercy.

  9. While I appreciate your efforts at retaining journalist integrity – really, I do, I ‘m not being sarcastic – I hope you’ve considered the impact of social media on anything in the news these days. Every scandal you’ve listed in comparison took place before Twitter and the Instagrams took the stage. That’s unfortunate for Judge Brennan’s place in history. My family’s Livingston County roots go back to the 1930’s and I can assure you there have been other scandals that rank highly enough on the Stink Scale to challenge this one as the most egregious. If I could defend the Judge I would …. childhood friendships are tough to toss aside …. but I do know that sooner or later any hammer backed by truth and justice has to fall. But please …. you’ve cited Facebook. Know that the world’s love affair with social media has had at least some impact on the perception of this situation.

    • That is an excellent point, Dennis. I can’t imagine what the Facebook reaction might have been like back in 1989 when the DeBurton scandal was happening. Great point, though.

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