Cook County judge receives rare censure over false mortgage statement

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Beatriz Santiago was formally censured by the Illinois agency that disciplines judges on Thursday, the first Cook County judge to be publicly disciplined in more than two years.

Judge Beatriz Santiago

Judge Beatriz Santiago

The Illinois Courts Commission action was based on its finding that Santiago knowingly deceived her mortgage lender about where she lives. At issue was the conflict first reported by Medill Watchdog and WGN-TV in December, 2013, between where Santiago said she lived on state election forms, and where she said she lived on mortgage documents.

Santiago contended that her statements on the mortgage were a “careless” error, but the Courts Commission, the seven-member body of judges and public members appointed to decide cases of judicial misconduct, unanimously concluded that “one could reasonably characterize her actions as reckless.”

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Santiago’s attorney, Adrian Vuckovich, said he talked with Santiago earlier in the day and that she is satisfied with the result and grateful to be able to continue to work as a judge.

“The judge humbly accepts it and is ready to get back to work on real cases,” Vuckovich said.

Santiago had been removed from trying cases while the discipline was pending, and has been serving as the judge conducting civil marriages in the basement of the County Building.

Chief Judge Timothy Evan’s office did not respond to an inquiry about whether Santiago would be moved to another courtroom.

Beatriz Santiago's former home on Spaulding Avenue

Beatriz Santiago’s former home on Spaulding Avenue

Santiago was first elected from the Sixth Cook County judicial sub circuit, on the City’s north side, in 2012, and contended that she resided in her parents’ home, which was inside the sub circuit. But when Santiago went to refinance the home she owned, several blocks outside the sub circuit, in 2013, she contended that the home was her primary residence – making her eligible for a lower interest rate.

If Santiago actually lived in the home she owned, she would not have been eligible for election to her seat.

After the conflict was reported, Santiago repaid homeowner exemptions she had taken on the home she owned, and notified the lender that her statements that she lived in the house were in error.

In February 2015, the Judicial Inquiry Board, the state board that investigates errant judges brought charges against Santiago, contending she had falsified her mortgage documents. A year later, the Illinois Courts Commission held a hearing on the matter.

The commission unanimously ruled on Thursday that she should be censured, a lower form of punishment from removal or suspension for a period of time.

The judge’s residence had first come into question when an election opponent challenged her residency before the 2012 election. Santiago testified before the Cook County Officers Election Board that she had moved back to her parent’s Northwest Side home when she decided to run for the judicial seat.

The hearing officer ruled that the evidence did not establish that Santiago lived outside the district, while writing of her testimony that there were, “a number of facts regarding [Santiago’s] residency that are not entirely plausible.”

The commission wrote that the election controversy over where she lived should have made Santiago aware of the residence issues when she went to refinance her home the following year.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated judge Santiago’s title.