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OCBA award winner Mary Ellen Brennan ever ready to help out

By Barry Malone
Legal News

Mary Ellen Brennan was sworn in as an attorney 25 years ago in the very same courtroom where she now presides as an Oakland County Circuit Court judge.

"My parents sat in the first two seats in the jury box 25 years ago and I think about it every time I take the bench," said Judge Brennan.

She recently was recognized for her public service work, receiving the coveted Distinguished Public Servant Award from the Oakland County Bar Association. The award recognizes attorneys employed in the public sector that makes outstanding contributions to the OCBA.

Judge Brennan, according to those who know her, is always willing to help.

"Whenever somebody asks for someone to do something, she never says no," said Laura Eisenberg, a partner with Alexander Eisenberg Middleditch & Spilman in Birmingham. "She just works tirelessly. I think that what distinguishes her, as an extraordinary judge, is every case is equally important to her. She never became jaded. She cares about every child that's the subject of a case before her. She has not as long as she's been on the bench lost that energy."

Jacob Cunningham, Judge Brennan's judicial staff attorney, wrote in his nomination letter that over the past year she served as the co-chair for the 2015 Circuit Court Bench-Bar Conference, hosted law students and new lawyers in her courtroom as part of the OCBA New Lawyers Committee's "Motion Day Mentoring" program, and spoke to the OCBA Family Law Committee about awarding attorney's fees in domestic cases.

As a judge, she's equally as busy, serving as the presiding judge over the Oakland County Family-Focused Juvenile Drug Court.

"Drug court is a time- and labor-intensive program designed to rehabilitate juvenile offenders of Oakland County with an aim to re-acclimate them to become productive, substance-abuse free, members of society," wrote Cunningham.

Her courtroom functions like a well-oiled machine, according to Keri Middleditch, a partner with Alexander Eisenberg Middleditch & Spilman in Birmingham. Brennan is respectful to everyone and treats everyone with the same courtesy, added Middleditch.

"She's just a pleasure to practice in front of," said Middleditch. "She has a lot of integrity. She does what she says. She means what she says. She's so respectful. She does such a great job. She has been a great public servant."

Brennan credits her parents for instilling the value of public service in her.

"I think it's just how I was raised," she said. "My mom was a teacher. My dad worked for the prison system. My mom was always staying after school volunteering for committees."

Here mom is a source of support for her.

"The night I got elected, at about 5:30 in the morning, my mother said 'I will make dinner for you every Tuesday,'" said Brennan, who presides over the juvenile drug court on Tuesday evenings.

True to her word, Judge Brennan's mom, Nancy Brennan, delivers dinner every Tuesday night. The meal is big enough that it provides Judge Brennan and her family dinner for two nights each week.

"Her greatest attribute as a judge is that she is just the nicest person," said Robert Badgley, an attorney in Sylvan Lake. "She sincerely cares about people in general. She carries that into the way she conducts herself professionally."

Brennan says her family helps her stay grounded.

"I think that part of it is truly I have a lot of people in my life who keep me in check," said Brennan. "I'm the mother of three: two teens and one in college. They will keep you in check. They don't tolerate arrogance and they help me keep in check."

A graduate of the James Madison College of Michigan State University, Brennan earned her juris doctor from Wayne State University Law School. Before taking the bench, she served for seven years in the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office. Then, she spent two years in the private sector with Meadowbrook Insurance before returning to public service as an assistant city attorney at the City of Royal Oak and as judicial staff attorney to the 44th District Court.

"When you strip it all away, it's pure public service," said Brennan. "It's interacting with people all day, everyday. It ranges from high-power guys charging $550 an hour to the [unrepresented parties] who are trying to work out a parenting time schedule and have never been in court."

Published: Wed, Aug 26, 2015

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