Poulton loses late bid for district judge

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 12, 2014

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ROYAL OAK — Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton lost his short-lived, write-in campaign aimed at ousting incumbent 44th District Court Judge Terrance Brennan, who is on “administrative, personal leave.”

“With a week to campaign, I think that we did all that we could possibly do,” Poulton said.

According to unofficial results by the Oakland County Elections Division, Brennan was re-elected with more than 90 percent of the vote. The final tally was 11,620 votes for Brennan versus 1,287 valid write-in votes for Poulton.

Poulton made the decision to run because of his outrage that residents were kept in the dark about Brennan’s alleged intent to resign following an election victory.

“That would result in the city losing the seat without the voters making the decision,” Poulton said. “Voters need to be informed what’s going on. I don’t even know the reason why you would even keep something like this secret.”

If Brennan decides to step down from the bench permanently following his election-night victory, it would impact 2013 legislation consolidating the 44th and 45A district courts.

Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam said that as of January 2015, the 45A District Court in Berkley will be consolidated with the 44h District Court in Royal Oak. 

“Really, what it provides is as of Jan. 2, the 45A District Court in Berkley no longer exists,” Gillam said. “Berkley and Royal Oak are both served at that point in time by the 44th District Court.”

This means the Royal Oak courthouse will be served by three judges — the two existing Royal Oak seats and the Berkley seat.

If Brennan retires before the end of the year, which is the end of his current term, then the governor would have the option to appoint a successor to finish the term. If Brennan retires Jan. 3 or later, his seat would be eliminated and the 44th District Court would have two judges.

“As of Jan. 3 of next year, 2015, when any one of those three seats becomes vacant, then the seat is eliminated,” Gillam said. 

Poulton is upset because if Brennan’s alleged intent to step down from the bench is true, then Royal Oak will lose one of its seats on the 44th District Court bench. He said if this intent was revealed to the public, another candidate could have run against Brennan on the ballot.

If an opposing candidate would have won Nov. 4, Royal Oak would have kept its two seats, along with the Berkley seat, until one of the three 44th District Court judges vacated the role.

Under that scenario, the cut from three judges to two could have taken quite some time, Poulton argued.

Poulton confirmed that documents leaked to members of the Detroit media written by Royal Oak city officials revealed the judge’s intentions to remove himself from the bench. Poulton said he became increasingly concerned after learning that Brennan had not been in the courthouse as of late and that the Michigan Supreme Court named Judge Derek Meinecke the new 44th District Court chief judge.

“I’ve also heard rumors of other things at the court,” Poulton said.

Poulton said the decision to keep this a secret has hurt the community and severed voters’ trust.

“People want to know why this happened,” he said. “And I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Brennan could not be reached for comment, but court officials confirmed he is on leave.

“Judge Brennan is on administrative, personal leave until further notice,” said 44th District Court Administrator Kevin Sutherland. Sutherland said Brennan went on leave Oct. 7 and he has had no contact with Brennan since that time. Brennan has been on the bench since 1991.

John Nevin, communications director at the Michigan Supreme Court, said the appointment of Meinecke is a permanent appointment, as Brennan stepped down as chief judge of the 44th District Court.

Nevin declined to comment on whether or not Brennan is or was under investigation. He said that is not the role of the state court administrative office.

“When it comes to an investigation relating to the conduct of a judge, that’s the purview of the Judicial Tenure Commission,” Nevin said.

Paul Fischer, executive director of the Judicial Tenure Commission, said all investigations are conducted under the rule of confidentiality. He would not comment on whether or not there is or has been an investigation into Brennan’s behavior.

Fischer said if a formal complaint is filed, then an investigation becomes public record.

Rumors have circulated in Detroit media that Brennan was having a relationship with a staffer at the Royal Oak courthouse and will retire to avoid sanctions.

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