Miami-Dade County

Pipe-wielding judge smashed windshield at teen’s party, police say

Miami-Dade Judge Victoria Brennan in court in July 2015. An arrest warrant was recently issued for her after a man in Key Largo alleged she burst his truck windshield with a pole.
Miami-Dade Judge Victoria Brennan in court in July 2015. An arrest warrant was recently issued for her after a man in Key Largo alleged she burst his truck windshield with a pole.

While angrily trying to boot her teen son’s drunk pals from her Key Largo home, police say a Miami judge used a metal pipe to smash the windshield of one young man’s pickup truck.

The episode led to a strange South Florida legal saga — for most of July, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Brennan quietly was facing an arrest warrant for criminal mischief in Monroe County, a period when she briefly sat on the bench presiding over criminal cases.

Brennan never had to surrender to face a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief, according to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald.

That’s because Brennan paid the victim restitution and he agreed to not pursue charges. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office then called the Key West judge to ask “about recalling the warrant.”

“It was random. She’s a judge,” truck owner Victor Garcia told the Miami Herald, refusing to say how much he got. “She took care of what she did. They paid more more than what it was worth. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Brennan was not in court Monday after taking leave. But the case isn’t over yet.

At a hearing last week, a Key West judge stayed the filing of the arrest warrant, putting the case in limbo after Monroe prosecutors decided to opt out of the investigation. Florida’s governor has now assigned Lee County prosecutors to review the case. Even if the case dissolves, Brennan could still face scrutiny over whether she properly disclosed to superiors and defendants that she was facing a criminal case while ruling on criminal cases.

“Judge Brennan is currently on leave. At this time, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Miami-Dade courts spokeswoman Eunice Sigler said.

Brennan’s lawyer, Daniel Lurvey, declined to comment.

The judge was on vacation for most of July, and only worked five days in August. Brennan did not disclose her legal troubles to lawyers working cases in her courtroom, according to multiple sources.

Florida judicial ethics rules mandate that a judge avoid “the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities,” said Miami lawyer Michael Catalano, who has represented numerous judges on ethics complaints. He said defendants could wonder if Brennan is leaning toward the state prosecutors whose counterparts in another county are pondering charges.

“Generally speaking, a judge who has an arrest warrant out there has no business on the criminal bench. The judge should have asked to be reassigned so there wasn’t even the appearance of impropriety,” said Catalano, who is not involved in Brennan’s case.

Brennan, 53, was a prosecutor in Miami-Dade between 1989 and 2003, and later worked as an assistant general counsel for then-Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2006, she became a county judge, and was elevated to the circuit bench in 2011.

According to a Monroe County Sheriff’s police report, the dust-up happened like this:

Early on June 28, Brennan rushed to the Florida Keys, where she has a home, after her 17-year-old son was arrested. Police said he was involved in a hit-and-run crash, and later spit on a deputy’s face at a Plantation Key jail. Later, Brennan went to her Key Largo home where she found “three drunk males” who had been partying with her son.

She claimed that one of them “cursed at her” and “threatened to ‘f--k” her up” after she demanded they leave. “Brennan stated the males were belligerent and threatening,” according to the report.

In the police report, Brennan does not address whether she broke the window of the black Chevy pickup truck. It does note that she noticed it had a flat tire before it drove off.

But the three men told deputies a different story, according to the 12-page Monroe County Sheriff’s police report.

The truck’s 20-year-old owner, Garcia, said that an irate Brennan “grabbed a metal pipe from the back of Garcia’s truck and proceeded to smashing in the back window.” His friend told police she “took a baseball-like swing.”

They also suspected that Brennan had slashed the truck’s tire, although neither of the men saw that.

Monroe County Detective Alberto Ramirez took photos, bagged the pipe as evidence and interviewed the judge and witnesses, all captured on his body camera. Two days later, Garcia insisted he wanted to press charges. On July 7, the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office “gave verbal OK” to have the arrest warrant signed, the report said. Key West Circuit Judge Timothy Koenig signed the warrant for second-degree misdemeanor criminal mischief.

The warrant, however, was not — and has still not been — entered into the clerk of court’s system. It was unclear Monday why the document was not filed immediately, which is standard in criminal cases.

That day, a Friday, Ramirez left a message with Brennan’s judicial assistant. The following Monday, Brennan’s attorney called the deputy, saying the judge was on vacation in Hawaii “and would not be back for two weeks.”

The two agreed that Brennan would surrender at a future date, the police report said.

Then on July 15, according to the report, Brennan’s attorney Lurvey called deputies to say he was “trying to contact the victim to make restitution.” Police were aware of the efforts, even emailing Garcia the proper “non-prosecution affidavit” paperwork.

By July 27, Garcia had agreed and met with Lurvey to sign the “non-prosecution affidavit.” The next day, Ramirez called Judge Koenig’s chambers and told his judicial assistant that the “victim no longer wanted to pursue charges against Victoria Brennan who was a Miami-Dade judge.”

But Koenig didn’t get rid of the warrant right away. Soon after, the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office asked the governor’s office to reassign the case because of a potential conflict of interest — the exact reason remains unknown. State Attorney Catherine Vogel and Brennan used to be co-workers at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

A Lee County State Attorney’s spokeswoman said prosecutors there have yet to receive any documents relating to the case.