Judge Brennan Begins Her Defense
October 9, 2018
Monday marked day six in the court hearing that’s continuing for 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan.
The complaint filed against Brennan by the JTC alleges failure to disclose relationships and disqualify herself from cases, misconduct in office, perjury and abuse of power among others. At the beginning of Monday’s hearing in 16th District Court in Livonia, it was announced that the JTC would no longer pursue two counts in the complaint related to former 53rd District Court Administrator Francine Zysk. The complaint alleged Brennan failed to disclose her close, social relationship with Zysk and failed to disqualify herself from Zysk’s divorce proceedings and other cases. The main aspect of the complaint involves Brennan’s affair with now-retired Michigan State Police Detective Sean Furlong while presiding over a double murder trial where he was the chief prosecution witness. Brennan’s divorce case called into question the conviction of Jerome Kowalski, who convicted and sentenced to life in prison based on a confession he made to Lt. Furlong, who was the lead detective in the case. Depositions from the divorce case revealed that Brennan and Furlong were engaged in a sexual affair, although they insist it didn't begin until after the trial.
Brennan is now presenting her defense to the allegations and took the stand all day Monday. No witnesses were called. The 61-year-old Brennan was appointed to the bench in July of 2005. She testified about her education and background before generally describing relationships with local attorneys and different disagreements she had with Livingston County’s other judges over dockets, re-assignments and courtroom processes, as well as changes she implemented and felt boosted efficiency. Brennan testified about what she felt were some shortcomings of other local judges and different areas in which she disagreed with them, such as how the docket was handled and the jury trial process. Brennan used to have a law clerk but said she didn’t know how to use the person so she got rid of hers to save money for the county.
Brennan was mostly upbeat during questioning but couldn’t recall various conversations or signing certain orders of importance. She became more solemn when talking about her divorce from Don Root, who filed on December 2nd of 2016. She said he was very angry and didn’t want to have to sell his business and told her he knew about her affairs with Furlong and another man. Brennan said Root asked for a divorce on multiple occasions, sometimes more than once in a year, she would beg him back but there here were always conditions and that she be good wife, meaning make sure she was submissive. Brennan said he also put a credit card in a snow globe and told her it would come out when she was good. Brennan said they tried counseling after he moved out September 2013 but it was hurtful and didn’t work. When asked if she ever had an intimate relationship with anyone until her husband moved out, Brennan responded no.
Brennan had trouble remembering different items related to an order to disqualify herself from her divorce case, as well as questions about her purchasing a new cell phone from a store in Troy - which reset her old phone to factory settings before she gave it back to her ex-husband. Brennan said she didn’t recall signing the disqualification order but acknowledged it was her signature on the order dated December 7th. She also couldn’t recall first seeing a motion for an ex-parte order to preserve evidence that was filed in her divorce case or a conversation with a judicial staff member related to the motion. Some testimony was confusing and prompted clarifications from retired Judge William Giovan, who is presiding over the hearing.
Kristi Cox served as Brennan’s court reporter for 10 years and ultimately took a pay cut to be reassigned in the court system. Cox said her entire decade with Brennan was “hostile, demeaning, belittling, and degrading”. Brennan testified she only kept Cox on staff because she made a very serious promise to former Judge Michael Hegarty “while he was on his deathbed.” She testified Cox was dedicating too much time to writing transcripts, a side job, and felt it was impacting her work and gave her an ultimatum. Brennan also testified that Cox was a great employee and a hard worker but felt Cox was jealous and competing with another staff member for her attention. Things apparently got extra tense after Brennan put a written warning in Cox’s personnel file. Brennan said Cox resigned but they worked things out and the letter was later removed.
The court hearing resumes this morning in 16th District Court in Livonia and Brennan will be back on the stand. Two witnesses are also expected to be called, although their identities were not disclosed. (JM)