The Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments on 53rd District Judge Theresa Brennan’s petition to reject or modify the Judicial Tenure Commission’s recommendation for her removal from the bench and to pay costs and fees of $35,000 for intentional misrepresentations and misleading statements made to the Commission.

JTC Executive Director Lynn Helland and Brennan’s defense attorney Dennis Kolenda each had 30 minutes before the Supreme Court at the Hall of Justice in Lansing, Wednesday morning to present their case. Brennan’s petition argues that the Commission had prejudged her case before her hearing, last October.

Kolenda had the podium first and called the case a “tale of unrequited desire.” Not desire in the sense of an alleged relationship between Brennan and former state detective Sean Furlong, but rather a desire by the JTC to save ego because of disappointment that their case hasn’t developed as they thought it would. He argued against there being evidence of romantic relationship between Brennan and Furlong before an infamous 2013 court case; against the unknown content of phone calls and texts between the two. In October’s hearing, testimony was given regarding a kiss between Furlong and Brennan in 2007. Kolenda claims that the kiss was an unwanted advance against Brennan, was not romantic, and led her to cut off the relationship. He said everyone concedes there was no romance before the case was concluded. As for records which suggest there were 1,500 calls and 400 texts over multiple years, Kolenda said that sounds like a lot, but maybe it isn’t in today’s day and age. When asked by Justice Megan Cavangh if that isn’t evidence that should still be disclosed, Kolenda said it establishes that they were exchanging a lot, but that we don’t know the content. He argued that the number of correspondences to Furlong were similar to the number of correspondences Brennan had with Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Ryan, and less than she had with her sister.

Kolenda also addressed an alleged friendship with attorney Shari Pollesch. He said the JTC accused Brennan of not recusing herself from 5 cases pending in front of her between 2014-2016. While the two had gone skiing 3 times over 20 years and been in a book club together, Kolenda said the two were estranged during that time. He said they both agreed that their relationship was dead and they had nothing to do with each other during that period.

Kolenda said the JTC has no foundation for their requests. He argued that while there may be a little misconduct, though he didn’t think so himself, if there was, it shouldn’t result “in a hanging.” He said the punishment should fit the crime, and removal from the bench is “way out of proportion.”

Helland then took podium and likened Brennan’s behavior to that of a forest of misconduct. He identified 3 areas of misconduct, accusing her of being deceiving with false statements, abusing her power over attorneys and court staff, and an unwillingness to remove herself from cases where she may have a perceived conflict of interest.

Helland said that Brennan enjoyed the power of her position, but did not recognize constraints. She couldn’t separate her personal self from her judicial self and refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing except for in the most inconsequential of occurrences. Helland said her default position is to conceal, lie and mislead. He claimed she did so in the Kowalski case with Furlong, when asked about Shari Pollesch representing her husband in court, when asked why she didn’t disqualify herself from her own divorce case, when deleting data from a phone with an order of evidence protection on it, having her staff do campaign work for her, and having her staff perform personal errands. Helland said that in her view, she is a victim of forces that are out to get her, and that none of this trouble she may be in is on her. According to him, Brennan has a self-serving denial of reality.

Helland said all one has to do is spend time with the three written statements she’s submitted to the JTC with her testimony, and contrast it with the evidence in the record. He said she often creates this false picture with very small lies. Helland said Brennan misleads by saying something with a kernel of truth, but with a twist. While the defense described the 2007 kiss between her and Furlong an “an assault,” Helland said testimony from Shawn Ryan claimed that the kiss “was romantic; un-nerved her, but was romantic.” Helland said evidence shows she talked to Furlong as much as anybody and couldn’t resist talking to him during the Kowalski trial. Whether Brennan and Pollesch were estranged or not, Pollesch was still representing her husband, and Helland continued by saying that in the middle of 10 of Pollesch’s cases Brennan presided over, Brennan described Pollesch as her best friend.

Justice Richard Bernstein asked Helland how he would prioritize the charges. Helland said they should be viewed as a package, but to him the most serious is the pervasive lying. Helland said that he has heard from others that they believe not taking herself off her own divorce case, tampering with evidence, failing to disclose her relationship with Furlong and then hiding it to each be the most serious, but to him it is the lying. He concluded saying that any one of them would suffice for having her removed from the bench. (MK)