A contentious divorce case involving a lawyer who represents the town of Cicero and a host of other local governments in Chicago’s suburbs has produced a pitched courtroom battle over his estranged wife’s efforts to reveal who pays him, how much he earns and the depth of his purported links to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other prominent Democratic lawmakers, and other influential figures in Illinois government.
Michael Del Galdo, 45, runs Del Galdo Law Group in Berwyn. The firm employs 39 workers, including 23 lawyers besides Del Galdo. The law group is “one of the most prominent political firms in the state of Illinois,” according to Del Galdo.
Adding to that prominence is former State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and lawyer, who joined Del Galdo’s firm a year before he resigned his state office in 2018. Lang has been a deputy of Michael Madigan, who has served as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives for nearly four decades and now serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Lang is also a Democratic committeeman in Niles Township and executive vice chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Madigan himself recommended in 2009 that the mayor of suburban Justice choose Del Galdo as that village’s attorney, according to a story published by the Chicago Tribune. Del Galdo got the job.
Michael Del Galdo Del Galdo Law Group
In April 2017, Del Galdo hosted a meeting at his office between then-Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and several other political figures, the purported purpose of which was for Pritzker to procure Dominick’s support.
In addition, lawyer Michael J. Kasper, once tabbed by Chicago Magazine as one of Chicago’s most powerful figures, has served as Cicero’s ethics counsel, according to town records. Kasper is also General Counsel and Treasurer of the Democratic Party of Illinois, once serving as General Counsel to House Speaker Madigan.
Madigan’s son, Andrew Madigan, has also done insurance business with Cicero and other municipalities, according to news accounts, through his employer, Mesirow Financial Services of Chicago.
Del Galdo’s wife, Bethany L. (Potempa) Del Galdo, wants to know about every dollar her husband makes from these connections, his legal work and investments.
Bethany filed for divorce in October 2016 in Cook County Circuit Court. The couple were married in May 2005 and have lived in suburban Burr Ridge, according to court documents. Proceedings have been soaked in vitriol, and the litigation continues.
According to a Jan. 10, 2019, filing in the case, Bethany has spent more than $527,000 in attorney fees and Del Galdo has spent at least $644,384 in fees.
BUSINESS INTERESTS, POLITICAL TIES?
In Bethany’s view, Michael Del Galdo has clogged the case with a “spurious interjection of objections.”
Michael Del Galdo has accused Bethany of infecting the case with “spurious and unfounded motions.”
Much of the acrimony has centered on Bethany’s attempts to fully examine Del Galdo’s finances and Del Galdo’s resistance to that effort. Court papers said Del Galdo reported a gross adjusted income of $2.5 million on his 2015 tax return, but Bethany said Del Galdo has refused to turn over more recent returns and other financial records, merely furnishing what she considered peripheral documents.
In a Jan. 25 filing, Del Galdo said Bethany’s attempts to delve into “inaccuracies” in the financial filings presented to her by Del Galdo are based on “a misunderstanding of Michael’s and his law firm’s tax returns.”
In the filing, Del Galdo said he serves as the sole shareholder in his law firm, which is organized as an S Corp. So, he said, “100 percent of the firm’s income/profits ‘flow through’” his individual tax return. He said this tax filing method results in “phantom income,” producing what appear to be “inaccuracies” in an otherwise accurate accounting of he says is his actual net income.
Amid the contest, some of Bethany’s subpoenas have been quashed, but others have been allowed, with protective orders in place to let Del Galdo first redact clients’ personal information, as well as other privileged information.
According to the court documents, Del Galdo has financial interests in other corporations, identified in court documents as D4 Holdings, 122243 South Harlem, Privity Consulting and MBN Holding. Del Galdo also has invested in Southwest Community News Group and Southwest Regional Publishing, which publish a number of suburban newspapers, the documents said.
In the course of serving subpoenas for financial records on the newspapers and Del Galdo’s firm, Bethany also subpoenaed Michael Madigan in July 2018. Del Galdo responded by lodging an emergency motion to quash the Madigan subpoena, saying Bethany should know, from information already in her hands, Madigan has no financial interest in Del Galdo’s law group or the newspapers.
Del Galdo said if the subpoena was not stopped, the effect on him would likely be “catastrophic.”
“The insinuation implied by this subpoena, namely that the Illinois House Speaker and Chairman of the Democratic Party has an ownership interest in Michael’s law firm, threatens to destroy Michael’s career and firm,” Del Galdo’s attorney, Steven Wittenberg, contended.
Further, the subpoena wrongly suggested Madigan has an undisclosed interest in the newspapers, which imperils the newspapers’ integrity, Del Galdo said.
“Bethany and her counsel are clearly attempting to intimidate Michael by taking action that they believe will incite animosity in the House Speaker toward Michael,” Wittenberg claimed, adding, there is “no evidence Madigan has any connection with Michael, Michael’s law firm, or any of Michael’s business interests.”
The subpoena was quashed.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
Eventually, one of Bethany’s attorneys, David P. Kirsh submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to nine governmental entities, as a way of learning about Del Galdo’s financial picture. Kirsh wanted copies of invoices, bills and payments made to Del Galdo’s firm.
Associate Judge Naomi Schuster overrode Del Galdo’s opposition to the FOIA filings, ordering the FOIA requests be satisfied, but telling Bethany to share with Del Galdo the information she receives.
Kirsh then asked for Schuster to be replaced by another judge on the case, but Schuster refused. Kirsh appealed, with Illinois First District Appellate Court ruling in December 2018 the matter did not fall within appellate jurisdiction.
However, on Jan. 28, Judge Schuster recused herself.
In a brief filed the next day, Del Galdo and his lawyers asserted Bethany and her attorneys “bullied” the judge into recusal using “personal attacks” in “thinly veiled” briefs. They said the recusal decision gives Bethany a “second bite at the proverbial apple” under a new judge who must now be “brought up to speed” on the case’s lengthy proceedings, to date.
Kirsh declined twice to answer questions from The Cook County Record about the case.
A spokesman for Del Galdo answered two questions from The Cook County Record, but declined to answer most questions posed to him about the case.
Del Galdo spokesman David Ormsby deflected questions about Del Galdo’s efforts to stave off Kirsh’s FOIA requests.
“Michael Del Galdo does not serve as the FOIA officer for his government clients. The decision to approve or disapprove FOIA requests rests with those FOIA officers,” Ormsby said.
Ormsby, who runs a Chicago public relations firm, has been press secretary for the Democratic Party of Illinois. He has also served on the Speaker’s Staff of the Illinois House of Representatives and Illinois House Democratic Campaign Committee of Speaker Madigan.
The Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck firm, of Chicago, Lake Forest and Wheaton, originally represented Del Galdo, but the firm withdrew in late 2017. Del Galdo then hired Dussias, Wittenberg & Koenigsberger, of Chicago.
Bethany was first represented by Chicago lawyers Sylvia Sotiras and Richard J. Prendergast Jr., but they were replaced by Kirsh and the Berger Schatz firm, of Chicago, in February 2017.
CICERO TOWING CONTRACT
While the divorce has been playing out, the family conflict has also been on display in separate lawsuits over Del Galdo’s role as Cicero’s town attorney. In one of the suits, Del Galdo is accused of legal malpractice and conspiracy.
Bethany’s father, Eugene Potempa, and brothers, Tim and Pat Potempa, run Tuff Car Inc., a towing company, which inked an exclusive contract with Cicero in June 2005, one month after Bethany and Del Galdo wed. According to the Potempa suit, Del Galdo acted as attorney for both Tuff Car and Cicero in arranging the contract.
Ormsby said Del Galdo denies the Potempas’ claims.
“Michael Del Galdo has never represented the Potempa family. Mr. Del Galdo has been transparent with the Town of Cicero regarding his relationship with the Potempa family,” Ormsby said.
The Potempa men also alleged Del Galdo oversaw an agreement by which Tuff Car did not pay rent to Cicero for a lot the business used, while Tuff Car agreed to release towed vehicles to owners without charge, when asked to do so by Cicero officials, resulting in about $2 million in lost fees.
The suit further alleged Del Galdo tried to hide his family relationship to the Potempas from any FOIA requests, by having another party sign the towing contract on the Potempas’ behalf.
In addition, the Potempa suit alleged that as the Del Galdo divorce proceedings began, Del Galdo schemed to have Cicero drop Tuff Car, both in retaliation for the divorce and to conceal his alleged questionable dealings between Cicero and Tuff Car.
Cicero ended its relationship with Tuff Car in 2015, prompting Tuff Car to sue the town. That litigation remains pending.
Del Galdo countered by alleging his wife’s family was using the groundless Tuff Car suit to try to gain advantage over him in the divorce. Del Galdo subpoenaed Eugene Potempa for records of any communications he had with Bethany about Del Galdo.
In turn, a deposition of Pat Potempa revealed Pat had hired a private detective to tail Del Galdo.
Tuff Carr is represented by attorney Donald Angelini Jr., of Angelini, Mills, Woods & Ori, of Chicago.
Del Galdo subpoenaed Angelini for any communications he had with Bethany’s attorneys about Del Galdo; Angelini denied any such communications.
Del Galdo is defended in that action by Tobin & Munoz, of Chicago.
Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.