It seems an update regarding the situation with Judge Theresa Brennan is warranted, particularly given the lawsuit just filed against her by Livingston County, and the recent deadline for a response to the accusations.
I believe this situation is highlighting a fundamental flaw in our legal system – not just in our county, but throughout the state. There are extended delays of justice involving miscreant judges, in direct contradiction of the directives of the Judicial Tenure Commission whose rules state “An independent and honorable judiciary being indispensable to justice in our society, (these rules) shall be construed to preserve the integrity of the judicial system, to enhance public confidence in that system, and to protect the public, the courts, and the rights of the judges who are governed by these rules in the most expeditious manner that is practicable and fair” (emphasis my own). I believe that language was devised in order of priority intentionally. Judicial integrity and the public are to be considered first.
As a legislator, I have the most solemn respect for the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches. Unfortunately continued delays and the apparent effort to deflect from necessary accountability has resulted in the residents of Livingston County being harmed daily by a judge that does not show the same respect for her seat that I do.
Once she had her docket removed, I waited while I watched multiple motions being filed without following the correct judicial process. Each time, the case has been sent out of the county to be heard, out of accordance with the existing policy of our courts. Other judges should have been given the opportunity to hear the case or had the opportunity to recues themselves before it was sent out of county – to a place where our citizens would be less able to observe what is supposed to be a public hearing. Yet again, the interests of the people of Livingston are being set aside in an apparent attempt to protect a judge that has been ignoring our citizens’ best interest – and frankly, unabashedly flaunting the law.
The continual delays and deflection of this situation forced Sen. Hune, Rep. Vaupel and myself to weigh in when our citizens were bearing the brunt effects of the delay tactics.
Understandably, the people of Livingston County want to know when action will be taken to hold Judge Brennan accountable. Frankly they are demanding she be removed from her post so as to bring honesty, respect for justice, and the rule of law back to the court.
This investigation began over 18 months ago and finally, a little over two months ago, Ms. Brennan had her caseload removed and re-assigned to a visiting judge. While we believe this action was absolutely appropriate and necessary for the proper administration of justice, this means that the taxpayers of Livingston County are now: 1) paying judge Brennan to sit at home and do nothing, and 2) paying a visiting judge to hear all of her cases. As state officials, we are frustrated by the gross abuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars the delays are causing. We were heartened to see deadlines imposed on responses to the complaint, but we are still left with Livingston County taxpayers footing a bill they should not have to pay, and the prospect that justice will be ignored.
What harm can delay or a slap-on-the-wrist cause? It is beyond significant. People’s lives and families are before these judges every day. The custody of their children, the dispensation of funds and households during their divorce, the determination of lawsuits involving family disputes that can make or break a family business. When judges are no longer impartial, judge shopping becomes the business of the day. An attorney that dared report a judge that does not show impartiality will lose business because no one wants to hire an attorney that has lost the case before it is even heard due to a personality conflict, regardless of its merits. Thus, we end up with understandable silence from the attorneys that must take their clients before these judges except in the most public and egregious of cases. Many attorneys simply won’t take on clients that are going to face an impartial judge. This is not justice. This is a mockery of justice and it is unconscionable.
It is beyond unfortunate our judicial system isn’t self-policing in a reasonable time frame. There is clear and convincing evidence of egregious misconduct. In the event of such clear violations, there is no excuse for this kind of a delay. While there is no opportunity for the residents of Livingston to recall a sitting District Judge, in such an extreme case, there is an option for the State House of Representatives to respond to corrupt conduct in office or for crimes or misdemeanors, namely, impeachment. I realize this is an extreme measure, and I undertake it out of the deepest respect for the office and the judicial system our founding fathers envisioned.
The Legislature has been given this authority for such a time as this. The resolution has been requested so that I can introduce impeachment language upon our return to session. Rep. Vaupel, Sen. Hune and I will do our best to ensure the legislature is fully aware of the accusations as well as the evidence that is publicly available, in order for them to make an informed decision as to the appropriate conclusion to this debacle. We still hold out hope that this situation will be resolved in a just manor prior to an impeachment vote. In such a situation, impeachment action would not be necessary. We are still looking to the judicial system to impose justice.
Hopefully, a conclusion can be reached before tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent unnecessarily, and before anyone else has an inappropriate conclusion reached in their case before this judge. I look forward to working with the county courts, the Judicial Tenure Commission and the State Court Administrative Office to create a scenario whereby Michigan law and the judicial system will not allow such egregious conduct to affect yet another judicial seat at some point in the future.