It’s the day many in Livingston County have been waiting for: 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan is off the bench — for now.
Brennan’s caseload has been removed and reassigned, effective immediately. In reports, Livingston County Courts Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh said the judges consulted and then made the unusual move in part to assure the community that their elected judges are “beyond reproach.”
This move is just another chapter in the reality show atmosphere that has surrounded Brennan and her courtroom.
Brennan’s essential booting from the bench comes just one day after the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a formal complaint against her after it had investigated her conduct for about a year. It also comes just a few days after retired Circuit Court Judge Daniel A. Burress filed a petition for a grand jury investigation of her, and amid a slew of calls this week for her resignation from state Sen. Joe Hune, state Rep. Lana Theis, state Rep. Hank Vaupel, and a majority of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners.
In 2013, Judge Brennan presided over the double murder trial of Jerome Kowalski, who was found guilty of murdering his brother and sister-in-law. Brennan had an affair with the lead investigator in the case, Michigan State Police Lt. Sean Furlong — an affair that Brennan and Furlong said didn’t start until after the murder trial; however, phone records later showed that the two spoke on the phone nearly 40 times between the start of the trial and sentencing.
Cavanaugh — a supporter of Brennan’s in her successful re-election campaign in 2014 — was named along with Brennan in a federal lawsuit filed in February 2018 that accused both judges of retaliatory acts and conduct that violated the First Amendment. The suit made life in the courthouse look like an episode of “Survivor: Livingston County.”
The suit, filed by attorney Jim Fett on behalf of 53rd District Court Administrator Francine Zysk, claims retaliation for Zysk’s “subpoenaed, truthful testimony” during Brennan’s divorce proceedings. In her testimony, Zysk cast Brennan as a “bully of epic proportions,” who caused employees to “walk on eggshells”; used employees to run personal errands and take care of personal business; arranged for proceedings to end by 3 p.m. so she could meet with “paramours”; and who read aloud a book about fellatio to her subordinates.
The suit also claims that Brennan called Zysk a liar during her deposition, and filed a complaint against Zysk with the State Court Administrative Office.
The suit claimed Cavanaugh retaliated against Zysk on Brennan’s behalf, and enabled Brennan’s behavior and her refusal to work with Zysk on any court business. Cavanaugh was dismissed from the lawsuit last month. The suit against Brennan is still pending; in it, Zysk asks for damages in excess of $75,000.
Adding to the drama, police burst into Brennan’s courtroom in May 2017 while it was in session, and seized all the computers and other items. No charges have been brought.
Cavanaugh did not return phone calls for comment on this story.