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MI Supreme Court to decide fate of judge accused of misconduct

Michigan's Hall of Justice.
The Michigan Supreme Court

The future of a judge accused of misconduct is now waiting on a decision from the Michigan Supreme Court. The case includes allegations of an improper romance with a police detective, and lying to protect her career.

Judge Theresa Brennan was not at the Supreme Court hearing in a case that will determine whether she can remain on the bench in Livingston County. The Supreme Court must now decide whether to uphold a recommendation that would force Brennan off the bench.

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission determined Brennan was engaged in an improper relationship with a detective who appeared before her, and that she lied and tried to hide evidence of that relationship.

Lynn Helland is the attorney for the Judicial Tenure Commission, which made the recommendation to remove Brennan.

Helland says, “She enjoyed the power of her position, nothing wrong with that. But she did not recognize any constraints on that power.”

The complaints against Brennan outline several ways that she allegedly abused her position. One of the other charges is that she did not recuse herself from making decisions related to her own divorce. Helland says every single allegation is very serious.

"We don’t have to choose which one is the most serious because any one of by itself would suffice to have her removed from the bench,” he says.

But Helland says he considers the pattern of lying to protect herself to be the most serious of the claims lodged against Brennan.

Brennan’s attorney is a former judge, Dennis Kolenda. He says the case is heavy with salacious details of a romance, but short on proof that Brennan actually did anything wrong. He says the Judicial Tenure Commission is making too much of friendships and activities that took place outside the courtroom.

“The recommendation of removal is way out of proportion and obviously way out of proportion.” And Kolenda says even if there was improper behavior, it does not rise to deserving to the punishment of removal.

“And I don’t think there was, but a little misconduct ought to be dealt with in less than a hanging.”

It’s been four years since the last time since a Michigan judge was removed. Part of the discussion in the hearing centered on whether the Supreme Court can take action to stop Brennan from running for judge again.

The justices of the state Supreme Court have until the end of July, when this session ends, to decide whether Brennan should be removed. Brennan also has to appear in a different courtroom next week for a preliminary examination that will determine whether she will face a criminal trial on charges of lying and tampering with evidence.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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