A Livingston County judge, who is already under investigation for possible ethical and legal violations, has been ordered removed from a divorce case by a higher court.

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a 2014 divorce case involving a couple who were splitting after 36 years of marriage. The case was overseen by 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan and involved a dispute over vested shares of stock from the husband’s employer. The appeals panel said that despite evidence to the contrary, Brennan wrongly refused to grant a motion from the wife that her former spouse had misrepresented the value of those stocks in their settlement agreement. They referred to her decision as an “abuse of discretion.” The opinion then indicated that the Michigan Supreme Court had “of its own volition” ordered that the case be removed from Brennan’s docket and assigned to a different judge.

In its decision, the appeals court stated the record was “replete with instances in which (Brennan) treated defendant or her attorney…with apparent hostility.” As example they cite an exchange with the wife’s attorney, thinking Brennan was finished speaking and but was chastised for attempting to respond, and stated, “I thought you were finished,” whereupon Brennan said, “Oh, for heavens [sic] sake. If I take a breath that doesn’t mean I stopped.” In another instance, discussing payment amounts to equalize accounts, after stating to the attorney, “It’s not rocket science” she then threatened, “every time you start saying you didn’t know [in response to questions about what defendant had in her accounts] I’m gonna sanction you a $100 [sic].”

At another point, when the wife was attempting to explain her financial situation, Brennan said, “Yeah, so do some explaining about why you only have 120 in the bank.” When she explained that her cost for cable and her landline telephone was $250 a month and her cellphone cost was $235 a month, Brennan replied, “that’s ridiculous.” The wife explained that she had pets to care for, including a blind and elderly dog, to which Brennan stated, “maybe you need to get rid of them.”

The appeals court said that while the attorney, “did not demonstrate hostility or aggressiveness throughout the proceedings” Brennan “displayed a pattern towards him and defendant of at least apparent hostility,” adding that, “It seems especially egregious for the judge to have recommended that defendant “get rid of” her pets. While there might be certain situations in which rehoming pets might indeed be a necessity (for example, if someone is destitute and living in a homeless shelter), defendant was not in that type of situation. They concluded that, “the appearance of justice would be better served if the case is remanded to a different judge.”

The decision is just the latest legal reprimand for Brennan, who remains under investigation by the Judicial Tenure Commission over allegations that she engaged in an extra-marital affair with a now-retired Michigan State Police detective who was also the chief prosecution witness during the 2013 double murder trial of Jerome Kowalski, for which Brennan was the judge, and which ended with Kowalski’s conviction. (JK)