Cook County Record

Monday, April 6, 2020

Judge orders County Clerk Yarbrough to turn over documents to watchdog investigating alleged political hiring

Campaigns & Elections

By Dan Churney | Feb 11, 2020

Illinois yarbrough karen 1280
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough | Youtube screenshot

A Chicago federal judge has ordered Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough to hand over more documents related to allegations she packed her office with politically-connected workers, but the judge refused to sanction Yarbrough for what a political watchdog claimed is her effort to hide her alleged shenanigans.

Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier ordered Feb. 6 that Yarbrough give Chicago lawyer Michael Shakman materials pertaining to job descriptions, resumes, application packets, interviewee scoring sheets, notes, recommendations from politicians and justifications for hire. These documents are to be for “attorney’s eyes only,” as Schenkier put it.

The demand for the documents was made by Shakman, who filed legal action Sept. 6 to investigate alleged politically oriented employment practices in Yarbrough’s office. Shakman said he is investigating 33 promotions and new hires made by Yarbrough since her term began in December 2018. The Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization is also taking part in Shakman's action.

Michael Shakman

Shakman has positioned himself as a reformer since 1969, when he and others sued the Cook County Democratic Party to fight patronage. That suit led to so-called Shakman Decrees, court orders which bar Illinois government agencies from letting politics improperly control government jobs and allows for federal court oversight of hiring practices in Cook County and Springfield.

Shakman alleged Yarbrough has ignored the decrees and made political hires, solicited campaign donations from workers on their private cell phones and tried to squeeze out supervisors who were not her allies.

Shakman claimed Yarbrough has not furnished all documents for which he asked Sept. 6, despite repeated attempts. As a result, he filed a renewed request Feb. 4, claiming Yarbrough is stonewalling.

“In essence, the Clerk’s Office has taken the position that responding to discovery is voluntary and, therefore, the Clerk’s Office can unilaterally limit discovery or decline to produce documents despite the Court’s clear direction on the scope of permissible discovery,” Shakman argued.

As an example of the information he wants, Shakman pointed to the deposition of Vital Records Supervisor George Tserotas, regarding the hiring of one unnamed person.

According to Shakman, Tserotas said the “successful candidate is related to a high-ranking official" with the Service Employees International Union, a group that has backed Democrats, including Yarbrough. In addition, Tserotas said he believed the successful candidate was not the highest scoring candidate. Further, Tserotas testified another candidate hired for a vital records customer service position marched in parades for Yarbrough, Shakman said.

Shakman asked for sanctions against Yarbrough, on grounds she is not complying with the judge's order to provide documents, but Schenkier refused.

Yarbrough fought the request for more documents by contending the request was broad, burdensome and demonstrated Shakman was on a fishing expedition.

“Plaintiffs (sic) continued requests for additional discovery can lead to only one conclusion: Plaintiffs cannot support their claim that the Clerk has violated either decree. Plaintiffs should not be allowed to file a motion stating as fact the Clerk violated the decrees, and then be allowed endless discovery to try to support that claim,” Yarbrough said.

An evidentiary hearing is March 3.

Shakman has listed instances, in which Yarbrough gave jobs to people Shakman said are Yarbrough's friends and political associates. These include:

Hiring former Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry as deputy clerk of  security. Curry had served as police chief for Yarbrough’s husband,  Henderson Yarbrough, when he served as Maywood’s mayor. Curry also worked for Yarbrough as security chief at the Recorder’s office;

Hiring former Democratic State Rep. Cynthia Soto as clerk of the board and procurement director; and

Hiring Holly Figliuolo, a relative of State Sen. Martwick, as an executive assistant.

Yarbrough, who, as clerk supervises elections in suburban Cook County, is also sergeant-at-arms for the Cook County Democratic Party board and is a Democratic committeeman in Proviso Township. Before becoming clerk, Yarbrough was Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

Yarbrough is represented by attorneys with the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.

Shakman and the other plaintiffs are represented by the Chicago firm of Locke Lord, and by Shakman's firm of Miller, Shakman, Levine & Feldman.

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Organizations in this Story

Locke Lord LLPU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisMiller ShakmanHinshaw CulbertsonCook County Clerk's Office