Lawyer Michael Del Galdo, whose firm represents a host of suburban Cook County local governments, has secured a court order to seal off from view his protracted legal fight with his wife in divorce court, as he continues his efforts to keep his financials and his political connections out of the public eye.
But a batch of billing records and payment data obtained by the Cook County Record and the Prairie State Wire from just five of the communities Del Galdo’s firm represents reveals business has remained strong in the past three years for the Berwyn-based Del Galdo firm.
Recently, officials with the cities of Berwyn and Chicago Heights and the villages of Stickney, Broadview and Melrose Park responded to Freedom of Information Act requests, seeking to know what those local governments have paid Del Galdo’s law firm, just from 2016-2018.
The data shows the municipalities have collectively paid Del Galdo’s firm more than $3.1 million during that span.
Michael Del Galdo
Berwyn, which has an in-house attorney, accounted for nearly a third of that total, paying Del Galdo a little more than $1 million from 2016-2018. Meanwhile, Melrose Park paid about $746,000; Broadview, $632,500; Chicago Heights, $385,500; and Stickney, about $212,800.
While the Cook County Record requested detailed invoices from each of the communities, only Melrose Park responded with such documents. Some asserted those documents weren’t available.
The city of Berwyn flatly denied to turn over any documentation beyond the totals paid to the Del Galdo firm, saying the city’s in-house attorney, Anthony Bertuca, had directed them to do so. Bertuca is not affiliated with the Del Galdo firm.
The Melrose Park documents reveal the Del Galdo firm’s lawyers billed at a rate of $175 per hour in 2018, for a variety of services, including: Assisting with village board agenda preparation; Drafting ordinance amendments; Reviewing documents associated with the Balmoral Racing Club’s bankruptcy; Litigation and deposition matters; Assisting with FOIA responses and public relations; participating in “strategy meetings;” responding to tax challenges; assisting human resources on employment matters and labor relations; and assisting the village with matters related to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, among many others.
All told, in 2018, Melrose Park paid the Del Galdo firm $196,088, the billing records showed, down from $303,233 in 2016 and $246,561 in 2017.
However, the totals obtained by FOIA from Melrose Park and the other four communities represent but a sample of what Del Galdo’s law firm, which bills itself as “one of the most prominent political firms in the state of Illinois,” takes in from taxpayer-supported organizations throughout Cook County.
Four years ago, for instance, the Better Government Association reported Del Galdo’s firm received $14.8 million from 2011-2015 from Cook County governments.
DIVORCE CASE SEALED
How much Del Galdo himself collects from his firm’s fees, however, is a sum he has gone to lengths to keep private.
Since 2016, Del Galdo and his estranged wife, Bethany (Potempa) Del Galdo have remained locked in a contentious divorce.
However, much of the contention has centered on Bethany’s attempts to discover the extent of her husband’s financial holdings.
Bethany has asserted documents provided by her husband to date are insufficient, and she has sought court orders to force him to turn over recent tax returns and other documents.
Del Galdo has asserted his wife’s attempts to delve into alleged “inaccuracies” in financial filings presented to her by Del Galdo are based on “a misunderstanding” of his tax returns, which, he said, reflect gross earnings for his law firm, and not his personal finances.
However, Bethany has also attempted to unveil Del Galdo’s other business holdings, including his interests in various corporate entities. As part of that effort, she also attempted to issue subpoenas to various prominent political figures to whom Del Galdo is believed to have ties, including Illinois House Speaker and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party Michael J. Madigan.
The subpoena of Madigan was quashed.
Del Galdo’s firm employs 23 lawyers, besides Del Galdo. Among them is former State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and lawyer, who has been a deputy of Madigan’s for decades. Lang resigned his state office in 2018.
According to a story published in the Chicago Tribune, Madigan personally recommended Del Galdo be hired as the attorney for the village of Justice.
Del Galdo currently serves as town attorney for the town of Cicero.
In the spring of 2017, Del Galdo hosted a meeting at his office between then-Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and several other political figures, purportedly for the purpose of securing Dominick’s support for Pritzker’s candidacy.
Further, Michael Kasper, who serves as General Counsel and Treasurer of the Illinois Democratic Party, and once served as general counsel to Speaker Madigan, has also served as Cicero’s ethics counsel, according to town records.
The Cook County Record reported this information previously, in an article published Feb. 4.
Three days later, Del Galdo asked the judge to allow him to file certain documents under seal.
In an “emergency motion” filed Feb. 7, Del Galdo cited the Feb. 4 Cook County Record article, and asserted Bethany had provided the Cook County Record with documents and materials cited in the article
Neither Bethany nor her attorney participated in researching that article, which was based entirely on documents which were publicly available and obtained freely and publicly from the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Bethany’s attorney also declined two requests from the Cook County Record to comment for the article.
Regardless, Del Galdo accused his wife of providing “pleadings and motions to the Cook County Record,” and said her conduct had “become so brazen and outrageous that they threaten to extinguish the parties’ marital estate, as well as destroy the prominent law practice Michael has built over the past 25 years.”
In response to his motion, Cook County Judge Mark Lopez expounded on Del Galdo’s request, placing all further pleadings and motions in the case under seal and impounding the case file.
Following that decision, the Cook County Record contacted the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and provided the RCFP with copies of the Feb. 4 article, Del Galdo's "emergency motion" and the judge's Feb. 14 order, which were the only documents available through the Cook County Circuit Clerk's office in the days immediately following Feb. 14.
Jennifer Nelson, staff attorney for the RCFP in Washington, D.C., said she believed closing the entire case file represented "an unusual and extreme remedy,” when the law governing such court documents presumes such documents to be public.
She said the action could be held to be "arguably improper" and noted the judge did not provide a detailed explanation for why he had impounded the entire case file, rather than tailoring a more narrow order.