Retired Judge Questions Relationship Between Cavanaugh & Brennan
July 30, 2018
Note: This article has been amended to reflect that Judge Cavanaugh was not with the Livingston County Prosecutor's Office at the time of the November 2014 photo, but had already been elected to the Probate Court two years prior. We regret the error.
A new petition has been filed by a retired judge that seeks to impanel a citizen’s grand jury and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan - alleging political and social relationships between judges and members of the Livingston County Prosecutor's office.
Retired Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Burress filed a new petition and brief today based on information from an amended complaint filed by the Judicial Tenure Commission against Brennan. Burress filed the petition with supporting exhibits that include photos of a re-election party at Brennan's home in November, 2014 that show former State Police Detective Sean Furlong was present as well as current Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh, who had been elected to the Livingston County Probate Court in 2012.
Issues surrounding Brennan’s admitted relationship with Furlong are currently the subject of a Michigan State Police criminal investigation as well as the complaint by the Judicial Tenure Commission, which charged Brennan with a pattern of improper conduct. Furlong served as the chief prosecution witness in a 2013 double-murder trial that Brennan presided over and resulted in the conviction and life sentence of Jerome Kowalski. When questions were raised prior to the trial about the relationship, Brennan stated on the record that it was nothing more than a friendship and denied a motion to recuse herself from the case.
The first petition to empanel a citizen’s grand jury and appoint Howell Attorney Tom Kizer as special prosecutor was granted by Circuit Court Judge David Reader, but overturned by Judge Cavanaugh. Kizer served as the attorney for Brennan’s ex-husband in their 2017 divorce and has been a long-time critic of Brennan. Both Burress and Kizer are appealing that decision. The petition states testimony during Brennan’s divorce proceedings put a new face on the extent of Brennan and Furlong’s social relationship, as well as significant social activities she engaged in before or while Kowalski’s case was pending. It’s alleged Brennan, Furlong, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Ryan and others shared a social relationship that extended back to as early as 2008. Brennan has said she did not believe that she had a duty to disclose the friendships, as they were well known within the legal community.
The new petition alleges there are forces determined to prevent the empaneling of a citizens grand jury in Livingston County and describes a “very cozy” relationship at the time between employees of the prosecutor’s office, members of MSP, Brennan and Cavanaugh. The petition states if Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt was unaware of the rumors, “he was likely one of only a few in the legal community.” Burress says a proper investigation needs to be completed by a grand jury and he continues to vigorously contest Judge Cavanaugh’s order, which assigned an out-of-county judge to hear the request for a grand jury. Judge Brennan’s caseload has since been reassigned, leaving her off the bench while still being paid pending the outcome of the Judicial Tenure Commission complaint, which potentially could remove her from the bench.
When asked about the petition, Cavanaugh had no comment.
Vailliencourt told WHMI "As I have already previously said, I have recused my office from this matter in order to ensure that there is an independent review. The original petition was reassigned to a judge from a different county who has no connection to anyone who has anything to do with this, which is exactly as it should be to preserve the integrity and the impartiality of the judicial system. The court rules generally require related cases to be heard by the same judge to avoid conflicting rulings. Appeals are already pending in the Court of Appeals. The Attorney General has publicly stated they will be reviewing Brennan’s conduct to determine what, if any, criminal charges are appropriate. And the hearing on the complaint filed by the Judicial Tenure Commission is set to begin on October 1".
Pictured top left Rolland Seizmore and bottom right Bridget Passeri, attorneys with Kizer Law Firm. Top right, Jennifer Eve. (JM)