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.