State Court Administrator Rebuffs Retired Judge's Grand Jury Request
August 7, 2018
A retired judge has been turned down in his request that a grand jury to investigate the alleged misdeeds of Judge Theresa Brennan be decided in Livingston County.
Former 44th Circuit Court Judge Daniel Burress had requested a grand jury look into issues surrounding Brennan’s admitted relationship with former State Police Detective Sean Furlong, who served as the chief prosecution witness in a 2013 double-murder trial that she presided over and resulted in the conviction and life sentence of Jerome Kowalski. Those actions are currently the subject of a Michigan State Police criminal investigation and a complaint by the Judicial Tenure Commission, which charged Brennan with “a pattern of improper conduct.”
In June, Livingston County Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh asked the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) to assign a judge from another county to hear the grand jury request, saying rulings from fellow Circuit Court Judge David Reader were improper once he recused himself from hearing the case. It has since been assigned to Eaton County Circuit Judge John Maurer. On Saturday, Burress sent a letter to State Court Administrator Milton Mack requesting that he reconsider that decision, saying it was improper for a number of reasons, chief among them that it deprived the remaining Livingston County judges an opportunity to hear the case. Mack responded later that same day, declining his request, and saying that “circumstances strongly suggested Judge Reader knew he should have recused himself prior to granting the petition.” Mack added that, “Judge Cavanaugh demonstrated courage and integrity in vacating all orders that had been entered in the case” and that, “a case of this nature must be heard by an impartial judge not subject to pressure.” Buress fired back on Monday, characterizing the entire process as “judge shopping at the highest level of our judicial system” and saying he was “more convinced than ever that your (SCAO) offices fingerprint was all over” Judge Cavanaugh’s order. Buress contends that the SCAO’s actions have been “contrary to the facts and not supported by any law or court rule.” Burress also questions Judge Cavanaugh’s impartiality, saying that she was a, “supporter of and supported by Judge Brennan in judicial races, and is photographed at Judge Brennan’s home in 2014” at an event which was also attended by Detective Furlong.
The chief reason cited by Judge Cavanaugh in her decision to send the case out of the county was Judge Reader’s appointment of Howell Attorney Tom Kizer as Special Prosecutor for the grand jury, noting that Kizer had served as the attorney for Brennan’s ex-husband in their 2017 divorce. Kizer has also been a long-time critic of Judge Brennan. He was also highly critical of the SCAO response to Judge Burress, saying, “There is no way to justify your unfair criticism of Judge Reader and plaudits for Judge Cavanaugh except to show the “circle the wagons” mentality to protect all judges who walk in lock-step with SCAO. Too bad for Judge Reader that he tried allow the courts to serve the pub-lic and not the judiciary. I would say he is the one who should have been praised.“
As to the accusations made by Burress and others, Judge Cavanaugh has consistently declined to comment. 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.
But Burress contends the investigations have taken far too long and that the lack of resolution is threatening to invalidate certain charges because of the statute of limitations. He also believes that a citizen grand jury is “exactly the remedy needed to solve inaction by elected and appointed officials who fail to do their jobs they were put in office and paid to perform.”
The original letter from Burress to Mack, Mack's response and then the follow-up letter from Burress are posted below. (JK)