Theresa Brennan gets off lightly, and there’s plenty of blame to go around

And so, Theresa Brennan is heading off to jail next week.

The disgraced former Livingston County district court judge is now a felon, and she will be spending the next six months behind bars at the Livingston County Jail.

Brennan had pleaded guilty to a single count of perjury, and that’s what she’s going to jail for, but she was accused of a whole lot more. But in the end, it was just that one count of perjury that they nailed her on, and that’s too bad. It’s too bad she got to skate on everything else.

Theresa Brennan was a horrible, unfair, nasty judge for years. She was totally unprepared for the office when Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed her to the bench in 2005, and she spent the next 14 years proving herself to be the worst public official that Livingston County has ever seen. Nobody else is even in second place.

The sentence was handed down Friday by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Paul Cusick, who was assigned to hear the case when all the Livingston County judges recused themselves. Under the terms of a plea agreement with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, six months was the most that Cusick could give her.

Like many of you, I watched Brennan’s sentencing as it was streamed live online, and it was a surreal experience. It was hard to believe we had finally – at last – come to this point.

At long last, Theresa Brennan was in front of a judge, about to be sentenced.

In a plea for mercy, Brennan tearfully told Judge Cusick that she regretted her crime, that she regretted the shame that she had brought upon her family, and that she was going to be a better person from now on. She talked about how hard it was walking into a store and watching people react in horror when she said her full name. She even managed to throw in a Biblical quote along the way, from Proverbs.

It was all so predictable and it was hard to believe even one word of it. I think Theresa Brennan is only sorry that she got caught.

And so, as Brennan prepares to spend the next six months behind bars – she’ll be getting out in late July, if you’re counting – here are some answers to the questions you might be asking right now.

Did Brennan get off lightly?

Yes. Absolutely. I’ve looked at a lot of the comments on Facebook regarding her sentencing, and the overwhelming opinion seems to be that this was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I couldn’t agree more. Brennan was facing up to 15 years behind bars, so to only get six months is a joke.

Brennan was asking for no jail time at all, but she could consider herself the luckiest woman on the face of the earth that she’s only doing six months.

So, who do we blame for that? The judge?

No, the judge deserves no blame whatsoever for that. In fact, we should be thanking Judge Cusick for what he did. His hands were tied by the plea deal, so the most he could give her was six months. The prevailing opinion a month ago was that Brennan would get no time at all, so we should be thanking Judge Cusick for giving her the full six months. Her crocodile tears did not sway him, and that’s good.

If there’s a person to blame here, it’s Attorney General Dana Nessel. It was her office that prosecuted the case, and she’s the one who approved the plea deal. Nessel tried to pat herself on the back when the plea deal was announced, but that’s laughable.

Nessel has nothing to be proud of here, and Livingston County residents should be furious that she let Brennan off so lightly.

Who else deserves blame in this case?

Where do I begin? Aside from Brennan herself, there’s so much blame to go around, and the blame goes all the way back to 2005. Here are some of the people and groups who should be feeling bad right now:

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who appointed her in the first place back in 2005. This was nothing more than a political appointment when it was made. Brennan was a hugely partisan Democrat who served as Granholm’s Livingston County chairperson in the 2002 election. So when Granholm had a chance to pay Brennan back with a judgeship a few years later, she took it.

Granholm should feel bad about that, and wherever she’s living right now, she owes Livingston County an apology. I have yet to see it, but Granholm needs to get on Facebook or Twitter or whatever and say, “Hey, Livingston County, I’m sorry. I screwed up. I had no idea that Theresa Brennan would be this bad, but I’m sorry.”

Back when Brennan was appointed in 2005, here were the other people who applied for the judgeship: Brian Brown, Jim Buttrey, Jay Drick, Michael T. Hatty, William McCririe Jr., Mark Reizen, Richard Trost and Bill Vailliencourt. I know most of those people, and I can tell you that any of them would have been a 1,000 percent better choice than Theresa Brennan.

Gov. Granholm, we await your apology.

The Michigan State Police, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission and every other investigative agency that dragged its feet in this case should also be ashamed. It took more than TWO YEARS before Brennan was finally removed from the bench after her courtroom was first raided by the police, looking for evidence.

For more than two years, the taxpayers of Livingston County paid Brennan’s salary while this case dragged on and on and on. Why in God’s name did it take so long? The entire O.J. Simpson case took 16 months from start to finish, and that was a tad more complicated than this one. The Brennan case has taken 32 months. That’s pathetic.

The Livingston County Democratic Party – certain people in the party, not everyone – supported and enabled Brennan for years, even after it was well-known that she was a terrible judge. They should be feeling very bad about that, or at the very least, they should feel like Brennan played them for suckers.

There are some folks now who try to claim that the Livingston County Democrats never “officially” supported Brennan in any capacity, but that’s just not true. She has always been their Golden Child – an elected Democrat in a ruby-red Republican county – and they’ve always bent over backwards to support her.

This goes all the way back to 2000, when Brennan made her first try for office, running against incumbent Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille.

This was a barn-burner election in Livingston County, and even though it was a non-partisan election, Brennan had the full-throated support of the Livingston County Democratic Party.

For what it’s worth, Latreille had the full-throated support of the Livingston County Republican Party, so they can’t claim to be choir boys (and girls) here. It was a partisan election on both sides.

But at the Fowlerville Fair in 2000, the Democrats were handing out “Brennan for Judge” bumper stickers and signs at their booth. That was most likely a violation of something, but since the Republicans were handing out Latreille stuff at their booth, nobody was in a position to be holier-than-thou and push the matter.

And in every subsequent election, many of the Democrats went all-out for Brennan – in 2006 and 2008 when she ran against Jay Drick, and in 2014 when she ran against Dennis Brewer. In mostly unofficial ways, the Democrats were there to help her out.

They should be feeling bad about that, or at the very least, they should be feeling bad that Brennan played them like chumps.

As for the heroes in this case, there are a few of those, too.

While thousands of people voiced outrage about Brennan through the years, Howell attorney Tom Kizer was the one who finally stepped up and did something about it. He’s been going after her legally for years, well before the scandal that brought her down broke. And he’s the one who Brennan’s ex-husband, Don Root, hired as his divorce attorney. It was Kizer’s work that finally took her down. If not for Tom Kizer, Brennan would likely still be on the bench, so we owe him a debt of gratitude.

We owe thanks to Jay Drick and Dennis Brewer (a friend of mine), who were willing to run against Brennan and give the voters a choice when no one else would. They knew what a bad judge she was, and they were willing to step up.

We owe thanks to Linda Walker, a Fowlerville attorney who risked her career to lead the fight against Brennan in the 2014 election.

Walker had requested a personal protection order against her husband from Brennan in 2009 because she feared for her life. The judge refused the PPO and callously told Walker that she was making way too big of a deal out of it.

A week later, the husband rushed into Walker’s office and held a gun to her head, threatening to kill her. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Brennan never apologized to Walker; never said a word about it.

Walker said Brennan’s grudge went back to 2000, when Brennan ran against Latreille. Brennan had asked the Livingston County Woman’s Lawyers Association to endorse her. Walker was the president of the organization at the time, and she told Brennan that they would be endorsing Latreille, the well-respected incumbent.

Brennan was furious, and apparently, she never forgot about it. That’s who Theresa Brennan was as a judge.

And so, while we should feel some satisfaction that Brennan did at least get some jail time, it’s hard for anyone in Livingston County to be feeling too good about this. She scammed us for years, we paid her for years, and in the end, she got off lightly. There’s nothing to celebrate here.

In fact, I’ll give Brennan credit for speaking truth to the biggest crime of all in this whole mess. In her tearful speech before the judge on Friday, Brennan actually managed to make one statement that was entirely true.

Brennan said that her actions had caused the entire judicial system in Livingston County to come under a cloud. Because Brennan was so bad, so crooked and so unfair, it made us think that the entire Livingston County judicial system was bad, crooked and unfair. She said she had brought shame to the entire Livingston County judiciary.

Yes, you did, Brennan. Thanks to you, nobody trusts the Livingston County judges, prosecutors and cops who are involved in the process now. These are mostly honest, decent, hard-working people, and you’ve succeeded in ruining their reputations, too. We’re finding it hard to trust any of them because of you.

So while you’re off in jail, we’re left with a county that needs fixing. Not that this is a bad thing, but our judges, prosecutors and cops need to work even harder now to bring integrity to the system.

I believe we can do that.

I also believe that Brennan got off lightly. I hope you consider yourself lucky, Theresa. I hope you do your time, I hope you do your community service, and then I hope you collect your belongings and move somewhere far, far away.

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