Allegations of judge's affair could lead to murder case being overturned

Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-07 22:21:55-05

Testimony in a contentious divorce case could get a convicted killer a new trial.

Livingston County District Judge Theresa Brennan is accused of having an affair with Michigan State Police First Lt. Sean Furlong while he was lead investigator in a double murder trial she was presiding over.

Brennan’s estranged husband, Donald Root, accused her of having an affair with Furlong during the double murder trial of Jerome Kowalski.

Kowalski was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2013. Furlong was the lead investigator in that case, Brennan was the judge.

“If the allegation is true, it is really a horrific abuse of our justice system,” Kowalski’s defense attorney Walter Piszczatowski told 7 Action News over the phone.

Brennan’s attorney Michael Quinn says the accusations are false and hurting his client’s reputation.  

Today Quinn asked Judge Janelle A. Lawless to limit future evidence from Brennan’s past romantic encounters from being presented in court and to seal testimony already given.

According to court documents obtained by 7 Action News, Lt. Furlong says his romantic relationship with Judge Brennan started in 2014, after the murder trial they were a part of in 2013.

Lt. Furlong also stated in his deposition that he has known Brennan for about 10 years and that he’s visited her cottage with her on multiple occasions since around 2006.

Peter Henning, a professor of law at Wayne State University says pinpointing when a personal relationship becomes “inappropriate” for the courtroom, can be tricky.   

“There's a very good chance at a new trial because of the potential that the judge was biased,” says Henning.

Henning says judges are held to a higher standard and need to avoid even "the appearance in impropriety." That a close relationship with a member of state police “is likely something that should have been disclosed and could affect other cases.”

The Michigan State Police Professional Standards Division has opened an internal affairs investigation into the matter.

William J. Vailliencourt, Jr. the prosecuting attorney in Livingston County where Judge Theresa Brennan presides released this statement:

The allegations, if true, are deeply disturbing. If there is any evidence of misconduct by the judge, that information should be provided to my office so that we can take the appropriate action to ensure that justice is done.

After I learned of these allegations last week from the pleadings that were filed in court, I brought this matter to the attention of the appropriate authorities for investigation. At this time, it's too early to speculate about what impact, if any, this could have. That will have to wait until we know what the facts are.

Today Judge Lawless ruled in Brennan’s divorce case that future testimony would not be limited if it is relevant in determining fault and use of marital funds.

“It’s not as simple as saying this is my private life, this is my public life, especially when the private spills into the public,” says Henning.