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Courting Trouble

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Yvonne Davila, a top aide to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and close friend of First Lady Michelle Obama, did not disclose her six-figure county salary when she filed for bankruptcy.
Yvonne Davila, a top aide to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and close friend of First Lady Michelle Obama, did not disclose her six-figure county salary when she filed for bankruptcy.

This story is courtesy of the Better Government Association:

Aide to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown files for bankruptcy – but fails to disclose six-figure taxpayer-funded income.

A top aide to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown could be in hot water for failing to disclose in her personal bankruptcy case that she had a six-figure taxpayer-funded job.

The aide, Yvonne Davila, was hired in May to serve as Brown’s press advisor at $104,000 annually, according to county records and interviews.

However, when she filed a federal court petition the next month to try to secure a Chapter 7 bankruptcy designation, citing serious financial problems, Davila didn’t mention her county job even though she was required by law to provide a full financial picture, FOX 32 and the Better Government Association found.

What’s more, at an August hearing for creditors, Davila was asked under oath whether she had reviewed “all the information” in her petition, including “all the schedules and the statement of financial affairs.”

She answered yes, according to an audio recording of the meeting.

Davila, a relatively well-known publicist in Chicago who is close friends with First Lady Michelle Obama, also was asked whether “all the information contained in those documents [is] true and correct.”

She said yes again.

The court ultimately granted Davila Chapter 7 “discharge” status, a coveted – and not-always-easy-to-obtain – designation for those filing for bankruptcy because it can erase some or all debts. By contrast, Chapter 13 status generally means creditors get more of the money owed to them, though perhaps in installments.

Davila’s initial court filing indicated she was making an average of $5,397 a month, largely as a self-employed “marketing consultant,” and had average monthly expenses of $5,744. In all, Davila reported $563,915 in assets and $496,841 in liabilities, court records show. It appears some of Davila’s creditors are credit card companies, records show.

Had Davila disclosed her full income, she might not have received Chapter 7 relief, experts said.

“I have a lot of clients who make less money than she does but are still considered to be making too much money to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the only available relief to them is Chapter 13,” said Charlie Glanzer, a Chicago attorney who specializes in bankruptcy law but isn’t involved in Davila’s situation. “But with Chapter 7, these cases are truly case-by-case.”

In interviews, both Davila and her attorney Matthew Miller said the income omission was an honest mistake that Miller – not Davila – was to blame for. The paperwork was filled out weeks earlier, before Davila started with the county, and it should have been filed earlier, she said.

However, Davila admitted knowing for weeks – she didn’t recall how many – before starting at Brown’s office that she would be working there. And she indicated on her petition that she did not expect her income to change any time soon.

Earlier this week, after a reporter starting asking about the omission, Miller appeared in federal court to try to correct the record, filing some revised documents.

“Ms. Davila did not intentionally attempt to mislead any party in the proceeding, and I take responsibility for the oversight and the subsequent corrective measures,” Miller said via email.

It’s unclear how things will progress from here, but it’s considered a crime – perjury, punishable by a fine and/or jail time – to purposely convey false information in such court filings, records show.

The irony here is the Circuit Court clerk’s office is responsible for the integrity of court records in Cook County. The agency is the keeper of local lawsuits and other non-federal court files, with Brown the elected official in charge for more than a decade.

Davila worked for Brown’s re-election campaign earlier this year before being hired by the county, Davila said.

This isn’t the first ethical issue to surface in the agency.

Brown has been repeatedly criticized for accepting campaign money from her own employees, although a recent news report indicated she’s curtailing that practice.

Brown didn’t return phone calls.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth, and Dane Placko and Patrick McCraney of FOX 32. Herguth can be reached at rherguth@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9030.

Help the BGA shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable by becoming a member, contributor or tipster. Details at www.bettergov.org.

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