Hilary Wheatley Taylor Failed to Disclose $70,577 in Debt on her Ethics Disclosure- Why?
Review the facts and decide for yourself.
Hilary Wheatley Taylor is a candidate for Magisterial District Judge in District 5-2-19, which includes the communities of Mt. Lebanon and Dormont.
On 1/24/2017 Hilary Wheatley Taylor filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court under Chapter 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The case number of the filing, which is a public record, is 17-20116.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is deals with two kinds of debts; secured debts (things backed by collateral like houses and cars) and unsecured debts (things with no collateral like credit cards and personal loans).
The debtor (Hilary Wheatley Taylor) submitted a proposal to the federal bankruptcy court to repay some of her debt over a 5-year period. This is called a Chapter 13 Plan.
Hilary Wheatley Taylor’s Chapter 13 plan was approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on 8/04/2017. Her plan, which is also public record as part of the case file, shows that she will continue paying the full amount of her secured debt (her house and her Lexus Hybrid) for the full 5 years. She would also be required to repay unpaid taxes to Mt. Lebanon, the IRS, and the PA Department of Revenue for a combined $7,881.62.
Under the plan, Hilary Wheatley Taylor would only repay 10% of her unsecured debts, a figure based on her income minus allowable expenses. These unsecured debts include:
|Lending Club (Account 1)||$13,395.00|
|Lending Club (Account 2)||$23,524.00|
|Bank of America||$3,077.00|
|TOTAL UNSECURED DEBT||$74,024.00|
Shortly after filing the bankruptcy petition, Hilary Wheatley Taylor began making monthly payments to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court according to the Chapter 13 plan through a payroll deduction by her employer, Papernick and Gefsky LLC.
Under the U.S. Bankruptcy code, Hilary Wheatley Taylor’s debts are not discharged (eliminated) until the Chapter 13 plan is complete, which is not for at least another year. Until then, the debts exist, but the creditors cannot take action against her.
Only when she completes the Chapter 13 plan will the 90% of her $74,024 in unsecured debt be discharged and go away. This is easily proved by the fact that if her bankruptcy is dismissed before she completes the Chapter 13 plan, the automatic stay in bankruptcy is lifted. This means her unsecured creditors can immediately begin to take action against her for nonpayment.
Hilary Wheatley Taylor signed the Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition under penalty of perjury and confirmed under oath that the information in the petition was accurate at her Meeting of Creditors on 2/27/2017.
The Ethics Statement
The Pennsylvania Ethics Act requires all public officials and candidates to file a Statement of Financial Interests form. This form, which is also a public record, requires the candidate to disclose information on their occupation, business interests, sources of income, gifts received from people other than friends and family, and any creditors the candidate has.
Here is the language from the Statement of Financial Interests instructions:
Based on what we know to be Hilary Wheatley Taylor’s current creditors from her Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, which is still active, she should have listed the following creditors with a balance of over $6,500:
|Lending Club (Account 1)||$13,395.00|
|Lending Club (Account 2)||$23,524.00|
|TOTAL UNSECURED DEBT FROM BANKRUPTCY TO BE LISTED ON STATEMENT OF FINANCIAL INTERESTS||$70,577.00|
Instead, here is what Hilary Wheatley Taylor filed:
The list of creditors is the page signed, attached, and time-stamped 3/08/21.
As you can see, Hilary Wheatley Taylor failed to disclose ANY of the $70,577.00 in current unsecured debts that we know (and she knows) exist from her Bankruptcy petition.
You may be thinking that failing to disclose this debt is no big deal, but the Statement of Financial Interests form lays out the penalties very clearly.
Here are the statutes listed immediately above the signature line of the Statement of Financial Interests form as penalties for false statements:
§ 4904. Unsworn falsification to authorities.
(a) In general.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if, with intent to mislead a public servant in performing his official function, he:
(1) makes any written false statement which he does not believe to be true;(2) submits or invites reliance on any writing which he knows to be forged, altered or otherwise lacking in authenticity; or
(3) submits or invites reliance on any sample, specimen, map, boundary mark, or other object which he knows to be false.
(b) Statements “under penalty”.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree if he makes a written false statement which he does not believe to be true, on or pursuant to a form bearing notice, authorized by law, to the effect that false statements made therein are punishable.
(c) Perjury provisions applicable.–Section 4902(c) through (f) of this title (relating to perjury) applies to this section.
(d) Penalty.–In addition to any other penalty that may be imposed, a person convicted under this section shall be sentenced to pay a fine of at least $1,000.(Nov. 29, 2006, P.L.1481, No.168, eff. 60 days)
65 Pa. C.S. § 1109
(a) Restricted activities violation.–Any person who violates the provisions of section 1103(a), (b) and (c) (relating to restricted activities) commits a felony and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than $10,000 or to imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
(b) Financial interests statement violation.–Any person who violates the provisions of section 1103(d) through (j), 1104 (relating to statement of financial interests required to be filed) or 1105(a) (relating to statement of financial interests) commits a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
The PA Judicial Conduct Board makes their position very clear in the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges:
RULE 1.1 Compliance with the Law
A magisterial district judge shall comply with the law, including the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges.
The Preamble of the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges goes on to say:
 Magisterial district judges should uphold the dignity of judicial office at all times, avoiding both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives. They should at all times conduct themselves in a manner that garners the highest level of public confidence in their independence, fairness, impartiality, integrity, and competence.
Why didn’t Hilary Wheatley Taylor disclose her bankruptcy as part of her campaign for Magisterial District Judge?
Although filing bankruptcy is certainly not against the law, her failure to disclose it raises legitimate questions about a lack of transparency and “avoiding the appearance of impropriety”.
More importantly, why didn’t Hilary Wheatley Taylor disclose the $70,577.00 in unsecured debt on her Statement of Financial Interests form as clearly required by law?
Was she embarrassed by her debt, or the fact that she will emerge from her bankruptcy only paying creditors 10 cents on the dollar?
Did she think nobody would find out, especially if she didn’t tell anyone about the bankruptcy?
Neither is a legitimate reason for failing to comply with the law, which is something an attorney like Hilary Wheatley Taylor should clearly know.
What else don’t we know?
Aside from the serious legal and ethical questions that Hilary Wheatley Taylor has yet to answer regarding her failure to disclose her debt on her Statement of Financial Interests form, the bigger question may be what else Hilary Wheatley Taylor has failed to disclose in her singular pursuit of a $93,000 per year taxpayer funded judicial position.
For example, why hasn’t Hilary Wheatley Taylor said whether she intends to be a full-time magistrate?
The only reasonable explanation is that she plans to continue practicing law if elected, effectively “double dipping” while making our Magisterial District Judge a part-time position.
If voters knew Hilary Wheatley Taylor was in financial trouble, they may have demanded an answer; but since she failed to disclose her debt, how would anyone know to ask?
These are serious questions. The reason we demand basic disclosure from candidates for public office in general and judicial candidates in particular is because it is important to know if they could be susceptible to undue influence based on their personal affairs.
We need to know that our judges are making decisions based on the fair imposition of justice and nothing else. And when somebody who wants to be a judge fails to disclose important information under penalty of perjury, we should be asking why.
For those willing to blindly defend Hilary Wheatley Taylor and cry “dirty politics” instead of acknowledging her apparent lapse in judgment, consider these things:
- Every fact and document cited here is 100% true, accurate, and publicly available. Nothing has been edited or manipulated to create a false narrative.
- The debts in question come from Hilary Wheatley Taylor’s own bankruptcy petition, which she also signed under penalty of perjury. Wishing something to be untrue does not make it so.
- If all anyone is doing is shining light on facts that Hilary Wheatley Taylor was legally obligated to disclose but chose not to, what is dirty or unfair about it? Wasn’t the real dirty or unfair tactic her failure to disclose the information and follow the law?
- Why should Hilary Wheatley Taylor be above the law? Isn’t that exactly the kind of characteristic we should be avoiding in a judge?
Despite her claims to the contrary, Hilary Wheatley Taylor is not a victim here. She should have been honest about her bankruptcy and hoped that voters would understand her struggles, but she wasn’t. She should have definitely complied with the clear legal requirement to disclose her debt, but she didn’t. How is that anyone else’s fault?
The only person to blame for Hilary Wheatley Taylor not disclosing her debts on her Statement of Financial Interests form is Hilary Wheatley Taylor herself. This is a conundrum of her own making, and blaming anyone else only serves to shine a brighter light on the serious questions about her moral and ethical qualifications for a position of public trust.