Wednesday, March 6, 2019


The Honorable Thomas E. Brennan, Sr. 

May 27, 1929 — September 29, 2018

Thomas E. Brennan, Sr. died peacefully on September 29, 2018, in Lansing, Michigan surrounded by family. He was 89. The family has shared a funeral program, including the full homily by Rev. Michael Murray and a reflection by Thomas E. Brennan, Jr.

Born on May 27, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan, Brennan graduated from Detroit Catholic Central High School, where he excelled in forensics. He attended the University of Detroit and earned a law degree from the University of Detroit Law School in 1952.

In 1951, he married the love of his life, Pauline Mary (Polly) Weinberger, with whom he had six children. Immensely proud of his large Irish Catholic clan, Brennan often involved family in his various professional pursuits, from political campaigns to the inception of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He was quick to credit Polly’s invaluable support for virtually all of his success.

Even so, success did not come easily in the early years of Brennan’s political career. He failed two attempts as a candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives in 1952 and 1954 and lost to John Dingell, Jr. for the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 15th congressional district in December 1955.

In 1953, he joined the law firm of Waldron, Brennan, Brennan, and Maher, with whom he worked until 1961 when he was elected to a seat on the Common Pleas Bench. In 1963, he was appointed by Michigan Governor George W. Romney to the Wayne County Circuit Bench, and in 1964 he was elected to that same position.

In 1966, at the urging of Governor Romney, Brennan sought the nomination of the Republican Party as Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He won the nomination and the election. In 1969 and 1970, Brennan served as Chief Justice, the youngest Justice to serve in that capacity.

While serving on the Bench, Brennan received numerous requests for law school recommendations which inspired his vision for a new, non-profit law school in Lansing, Michigan. Noting that many qualified students were refused law school admission, he was determined to eradicate academic elitism and make legal education accessible to all capable students. Brennan incorporated Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1972 with the belief that “An educated citizenry that understands the law is critical to the strength and progress of the nation.” Brennan left the Supreme Court on December 6, 1973, to dedicate his professional career to the fledgling law school and ensure its success. Brennan served as first Dean of Cooley Law School until 1978, when he became its first president.

Under his magnetic leadership, Cooley Law School grew from its initial class of 76 students to become the largest accredited law school in the nation. Known for ingenuity and perseverance, Brennan designed and instituted numerous unprecedented innovations, including the law school’s year-round schedule that allowed multiple first term classes to start each year. He is credited with founding the Cooley Legal Authors Society, the Student Bar Association, the Scholastic Review Board and the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review. He also composed the law school’s alma mater.

During his tenure at Cooley Law School, Brennan ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator from Michigan in 1976, and for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan in 1982. Brennan retired from Cooley Law School in 2002. The Thomas E. Brennan Law Library in Lansing is named in his honor.

Combining insight and levity, Brennan was a captivating orator and engaging storyteller. He authored a self-published novel entitled The Benchin 2000, a memoir called Starting a Law School in 2007, a book entitled The Article V Amendatory Constitutional Convention: Keeping the Republic in the Twenty-First Century in 2014, and a blog, oldjudgesays, which ran from 2008 to 2017. New ideas energized Brennan, whether he was striving to establish a United States Constitutional Convention or trying to develop an American Golf League. An avid golfer, Brennan made a hole-in-one on five lucky occasions.

He will be deeply missed by his beloved Polly and their children: Thomas, Jr. (Julie), Margaret (David) Radelet, John (Catherine), William (Lisa), Marybeth (James) Hicks, and Ellen (Peter) Campbell; nineteen grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; siblings Raymond (Loretta) of East Lansing, Michigan, Mary (James) Bernard of Fraser, Colorado, and Sally Giraud of Westland, Michigan, and sister-in-law Patricia Brennan of Rochester Hills, Michigan. He is preceded in death by parents Joseph and Jeannette Brennan and brother, Joseph Terrence, Jr.

A Funeral Mass was held Thursday, October 4, 2018, at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, East Lansing, MI with concelebrants Rev. Michael Murray, Rev. Gary Koenigsknecht, Rev. Msgr. Michael D. Murphy, Rev. Richard Elmer, C.S.B., Rev. John Huber, C.S.B., Ed.D., Rev. Charles Irvin, Rev. Joseph J. Krupp, and Rev. James Mangan officiating. A private interment took place that day at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery, Southfield, MI.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


He was a law professor’s law professor. With a twinkle in his eye, he could espouse the most preposterous position on any proposition of law or politics and stubbornly defend it against any and every effort to uphold reason and common sense.

He could make you think. He could make you analyze. He was a born teacher who motivated his students to work, forced them to learn how to learn.

I hired Pete Jason more than forty years ago. No search committee. No formal application or interview. He was a friend of Bob Krinock’s, a U. of Detroit guy and, at a relatively young age, had already risen to the position of Corporate Council of the City of Detroit.

He had no academic credentials as I remember, but like most of the early faculty at Thomas Cooley Law School, Pete Jason was a ‘good old boy’ well liked, well recommended, easy to know, fun to be with.

Peter was the quintessential pixie. He could draw you into a heated debate with some outlandish assertion or improbable contention. You knew he wasn’t serious. But he would never admit a spoof or concede a point.

Looking back, I marvel at the chutzpa we all shared in the salad days of Cooley. In many respects, Pete Jason and I, along with a handful of others shared the task of making something out of nothing.

That is an experience like no other. The act of creating, of founding, of launching an institution is not shared by many people. I know how iffy it was for me; a young married man with a young family. It was certainly as shakey a limb for Pete Jason and his wife, Sandy, as well.

But it was a limb he happily crawled out on. Nobody was more dedicated or committed to the Thomas M. Cooley Law School than Peter D. Jason. And no one is to this day, more nearly identified with Cooley and its philosophy of access to legal education.

Pete Jason is dead. He died just a week or so ago and not much more than a few days after he sat next to Polly and me at a dinner of some old faculty people.

It’s a strange realty. One moment you are enjoying the company of an old and dear friend, laughing at stories told and retold over the years; then seemingly in the blink of an eye, the friend is gone; the companionship, so real and so vital, is over; the present has become the past; the friend has lost his own time and space, and he now lives only in the shared memories of those who knew and loved him.

Polly and I, along with all the folks at Cooley Law School, and a virtual army of his former students will keep him in our hearts and prayers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I began working on a puzzle before supper. I finished it around 10:30 at night. My rough estimate is that it took me five hours to fill in the grid with all of the correct numbers.

So now it’s bedtime. I should be under the covers, saying night prayers, thanking the Almighty for the blessing of another day.

Truthfully, I am tempted to apologize to the generous Creator. This marvelous planet is replete with activities, teeming with interesting people, full of energy, daunted by challenges, and bursting with opportunities to make the most of every day.

The Lord has blessed me with a long, healthy life. And what do I do with it?

I work puzzles. Sudoku puzzles. Word puzzles. Number puzzles. Jig Saw puzzles. Puzzle puzzles. Yuk!

Of course, I assuage my conscience by telling myself that I am exercising my brain; that acuity in logic and clarity of thought are the by-products of mental activity.

And I go to Google to prove it:

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s an awful waste of time.

On a shelf in the hallway upstairs there is a random collection of diaries Polly and I have started, kept and abandoned through the years. Many of those pages are filled with the minutia of daily living; going to the office, driving kids to school, visiting and/or entertaining neighbors, friends and relatives; household chores and on and on.

They bring back the hectic days of midlife; the ice rink in the vacant lot next door; the Baptisms, First Communions, Proms, Graduations, Birthdays and countless crises encountered by a big and busy family.

Whatever challenges we faced in those days, boredom wasn’t among them.

Not that I am currently afflicted by ennui. The basement of our home in Harbor Springs is my special domain. Here are my locker room, my computer and even an area to practice putting.

And here is my library.

It’s not a big library. Just over 500 books. It would be more, but I donated some to Saint Michael’s Academy, the new Catholic high school in Petoskey.

That, incidentally, is an interesting  and admirable project, launched just a few years ago with the support of Catholic parents who remember their own teen years spent in the Catholic High Schools of Michigan and elsewhere.

It is a testimony to the perceived value of Catholic High School education that parents are so willing to sacrifice in order to provide the same opportunity for their children.

A cursory examination of the curriculum at Saint Michaels provides convincing proof that SMA students are getting a classical education. From the Iliad and Odessey to Julius Caesar and Shakespeare, Socrates and Homer
They read the classics, and study them in their classwork.

Clearly those students are not wasting their time, even if they should occasionally solve a Sudoku puzzle.

It probably would be a good thing for me to pull one of my books down off the shelf every day or so, if, for no other reason than to revisit some forgotten intellectual exercise.

And to enrich endless days of puzzle solving with the facts of history, and the opinions of intellectual leaders.

 I am always amazed at how many of those books I have never read. It is time to do something about that.

I could still do Sudoku puzzles in aid of regularity.

Monday, October 16, 2017


It was sometime back in the 1960’s or 1970’s. The First Friday Club was a group pf Catholic professional men in Detroit who met for lunch in the Book Cadillac Hotel on the first Friday of the month to hear a speaker on a topic of interest.

On one such occasion, Father Charles Coughlin, the famed ‘radio priest’ of the depression years, who had been silenced by the Vatican for his political views about the Roosevelt administration, came out of his long absence from public appearances to speak to the men of the First Friday Club.  

I shall never forget his opening words. In a rather high, strong, expressive voice he announced: “I want to speak to you men today about a subject that is as modern as tomorrow. I am going to talk to you about the devil.”

From those challenging words, he embarked upon a fascinating description of myriad examples of satanic influences in human life.

Father Coughlin reminded us that the existence of the devil, a destructive, malignant, hate-filled personification of malice, is as much an article of our Christian faith as are the benign angels and saints to whom we address our daily prayers and petitions.

In a day and an age of such human enlightenment that sees men walk on the moon and explores the atomic structure of every known particle of matter; that gathers and disseminates every scrap of information and every discovery of science, we struggle to explain and understand everything.

Including the vicissitudes of human behavior. We want to know why. We want to understand how a perfectly normal, mild mannered, law abiding, 64 year old accountant and real estate investor can suddenly become the insane perpetrator of an inexplicable massacre of historic proportions.

Stephen Paddock has been described as a very ordinary, well adjusted, unremarkable
man; a neighbor, a landlord, a gambler, an investor. His live-in girl friend described him in these words:

“I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man. I loved him and hoped for a quiet future together with him. He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of, that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen.”
No doubt criminologists and psychologists will seek to explain what may have caused Paddock to snap. Certainly, it was not a sudden onslaught. He accumulated an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. He researched various venues. The massacre was something he had planned for a long time; something he thought about, envisioned, and prepared for.

If he was deranged, it did not affect his ability to function.  We ask ourselves. “How could anyone in his right mind do such a thing?”

It would seem axiomatic that Paddock was not “in his right mind” but if he wasn’t, who or what was in control of his thoughts and his actions?

Father Coughlin would have given a ready answer: Paddock was in league with the Devil.

It is indeed a frightening thought that the Evil Spirit can work his will through the agency of an otherwise ordinary and unremarkable human being. Assuming that the police and the FBI are unable to come up with a better explanation, that may be all we will ever deduce from the Las Vegas massacre.

It may or may not be enough. Certainly there is enough mindless slaughter of human beings on this planet and in our beloved United States of America to challenge our capacity to understand, accept and respond.

When a hurricane descends upon Texas or Louisiana, we accept it as a natural disaster. We circle the wagons of our emotions and face up to the need for collective, sympathetic response. Mother Nature forces us to come together, to hold hands, to help each other with words, works and the soothing oil of sympathy.

It is hard for us to accept that the work of Satan is ongoing and is, in a very real sense, part and parcel of our lives on Planet Earth. When someone like Stephen Paddock explodes into a demonic terrorist we have to realize that human nature is part of Nature; that, as Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

The slaughter in Las Vegas, as heart wrenching and disheartening as it was, is only a more dramatic episode in the day to day lives of the American people. More people are gunned down in Chicago every month than Paddock killed in Nevada. 

It may be less dramatic, but the truth of it is that the Devil is as much in evidence in teen age gang warfare as he is in the mass killing of the patrons of a country music festival.

Somehow, some day, the good Lord will raise up among us the voices of men and women who will remind us that the beauty and success of Christian civilization is founded in the eternal struggle between Good and Evil.

No amount of arrest and imprisonment, law and order, or probation and rehabilitation can take the place of the fire and brimstone of classic Christianity.

Eternal damnation is the workplace and the residence of the evil spirit. It was and still is, the best regulator of human conduct.  
You and I had better believe it.

Friday, September 29, 2017


A dear friend has requested that I weigh in on the football v flag controversy.

I have to say that the whole brouhaha should be laid at the feet of the lawyers who drafted the million dollar contracts between NFL players and the owners of NFL teams.

Certainly, the players are American citizens and certainly, like all other Americans, they have the constitutional right to express their political opinions whenever and however they choose.


Unless they have freely exercised their equally sacred constitutional right to enter into a contract that limits their right of political expression.

Professional football is a very successful enterprise. It has become a national pastime; an important and powerful element of American life.

If you doubt that, I suggest you look at the economic impact of the Super Bowl; not only in the city where it is played, but in every city and town from Bangor to Chula Vista.

Football is a peculiarly American sport. Every high school and college has a football team.

And every city of consequence has a professional team which bolsters home town chauvinism throughout the land.

Not to mention that professional teams are economic dinosaurs that make millions for their owners and occasion huge expenditures by municipalities and their football mesmerized inhabitants.

The playing of the national anthem, and the raising of the American flag are typically part of the pageantry that surrounds a professional football game.

That’s because football is an American game. We love it. We celebrate it. It brings us together as a nation.

Certainly the owners of football teams must know that they are in a business that is not defined and delimited by a couple of hours on manly combat on the field.

They must realize that they are in the entertainment and recreation business.

And that the celebration of patriotism is as much a part of their inventory as offense and defense.

So I should think that any well advised team owner would insist on player contracts which require the players to participate in the patriotic aspects of their entertainment business.

And that would certainly include standing at respectful attention during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner.

If any team owners or their counsel should happen to see this blog, the old judge would be happy to draft the appropriate contractual language.

For a fee, of course.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


The United States Supreme Court has taken up a case out of Colorado in which a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The merchant bases his refusal to bake the cake upon a strongly held religious belief that marriage is a contract between a male and a female.

A decision by the high court is expected in October.

There have been a number of similar cases decided in various State courts.

Typically, these disputes arise in the context of State laws which prohibit invidious discrimination in the market place. These are the so called “civil rights “ laws which originally provided that businesses open to and serving the general public are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color or creed.

The Michigan law expands on that, prohibiting discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.

When I was in law school, we learned in the Contracts course that agreements to buy or sell things were based upon the free choices and decisions of the buyers and sellers. Only enterprises known as public utilities were obligated to deal with everyone and to do so without discrimination.

Candidly, I wish the question of religious freedom were not being injected into these cases. Freedom of contract is perhaps the most fundamental and unequivocal liberty known to mankind. Unless there is a valid, constitutional statute prohibiting or limiting our freedom to buy or sell as we choose, no court should ever interfere with our freedom of contract.

Economic boycotts are classic exercises of political choice in the marketplace. In a free country people have a right to hinge their economic decisions on their political sentiments.

Weddings are expensive. For most of us, a wedding is an orgy of major spending decisions. Cakes, flowers, gowns, musicians, venue rental, the list goes on and on, and every nickel of it is the occasion of a buyer and a seller exercising his or her freedom of contract.

Vendors in the wedding business have become particularly susceptible to and capable of political boycotts since marriage has emerged as one of the most divisive political issues of our time.

In the Obergefell  case, the Supreme Court claimed to discover a constitutional right of same sex marriage. It did not decree that same sex marriage must be approved and abetted by all wedding vendors.

The civil rights statutes in Michigan and elsewhere, protect various classes of people. They do not protect conduct. They prohibit discrimination against people based upon who they are, not what they do.

Michigan farmer Steve Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farms, in Charlotte, rents his barn as a wedding venue. But not for same sex marriages. The City of East Lansing, presumably based upon someone’s complaint, revoked Tennes’ permit to sell his apples at its Farmers’ Market.

A Michigan Court promptly issued an injunction against the City, so Tennes is back in business. At least that’s where the matter stands today.

Again, and unfortunately, Mr. Tennes argues that gay marriage is not approved by his church, and he attributes his barn ban to his Catholic faith.

Too bad. I can’t help wishing that he had just said “It’s my barn, and nobody is a going to tell me who I can rent it to.”

The Obergefell decision opened a can of worms. Its fuzzy notion of a constitutional right to marry is a judicial intrusion into an area that is peculiarly entrusted to the elected legislatures of our nation. Marriage laws typically require a license to marry and spell out who can and who cannot be licensed.

Age, relationship, marital status, mental competence, physical health and residence are all matters that legislatures have regarded as important in the marriage licensing process.  

Does Obergefell sanction incest or child marriage? Nobody knows. One thing is certain: you can’t do it at Country Mill Farms.