Swamped by $1 million in debt despite a combined annual income of $204,000, incumbent Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott and her husband are seeking protection from creditors in federal bankruptcy court in Santa Rosa.
Lintott’s precarious personal finances drove her and husband Scott Shaver, a city of Ukiah employee, to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on March 29, according to court documents. The action for now bars creditors from garnishing the couple's wages, or taking other legal action to collect the debt.
Just 10 days after filing bankruptcy, Lintott and husband Scott Shaver petitioned a federal bankruptcy judge to lift a Wells Fargo bank freeze on two personal checking and savings accounts totaling $7,284.53 so they could “buy groceries and pay monthly bills,” according to court documents. The judge agreed because Wells Fargo is not a creditor.
The disclosure of Lintott’s personal money woes comes at a time when her re-election campaign finances are lagging significantly behind her two challengers in the June primary.
As of March 22 Lintott had collected only $11,051 in contributions, and had just $1,629 in cash on hand to continue her campaign into the final weeks. Records show Lintott is still $22,000 in debt to herself from her campaign to win the DA’s seat three years ago.
In comparison challenger David Eyster during the same period reported $17,778 in contributions. He had $7,960 in cash remaining after paying campaign expenses. Candidate Matt Finnegan, who started out with a $25,000 campaign war chest underwritten largely by family members, still had $19,478 in cash to spend.
The bankruptcy documents filed by Lintott and her husband showed they couldn't meet monthly expenses of $12,695 despite earning a combined $204,713 in 2009. Lintott earned $140,618 last year as DA, and Shaver, a computer technician for the city of Ukiah, was paid $64,095.
Lintott said the bankruptcy filing was unavoidable.
“We were in an untenable position, as are many people in today’s economy,” said Lintott.
Lintott said she’s never financially recovered from the high cost of her long and legally complicated campaign to win election as district attorney in 2007. Incumbent Norm Vroman died suddenly in the middle of his bid to defeat Lintott, triggering a costly legal battle over whether his chief assistant Keith Faulder could enter the race. Faulder won the challenge, forcing Lintott to mount a new campaign to finally win election.
Lintott spent $22,000 of her own money during that campaign, documents indicate.
After finally taking office, Lintott moved from the Mendocino Coast to Redwood Valley and bought a house to be nearer the county courthouse in Ukiah. But Lintott said she was unable to sell the family's Fort Bragg home as planned.
“We’ve been making mortgage payments on two places,” said Lintott. Together the monthly mortgage payments total $5.715.10.
Lintott also said that during the same period she had to borrow $44,438 in student loans to help pay for her children’s college education.
Documents on file in the Santa Rosa bankruptcy court show that Lintott and Shaver have assets valued at $785,550 including the two houses but that they owe creditors a total of $1,040,838.
The list of creditors is headed by Citi Mortgage, Inc. of Nevada, which is owed $725,000. The debt is secured by notes on the Fort Bragg and Redwood Valley properties.
Creditors with unsecured claims are owed a total $290,613.
An Arizona computer services company has an unpaid bill of $27,372, but the bulk of Lintott and Shaver’s unsecured debt is owed to banks and credit card affiliates.
The list includes $57,300 to Bank of America, and three individual Chase accounts of $22,128, $14,614, and $2,495. Also owed is $30,890 to Citi bank, $17,258 to Citi Cards, and $11,960 to Capital One. In addition, Sears MasterCard and Sears Premier MasterCard are owed in excess of $7,000.
Lintott and Shave are asking the bankruptcy judge to exempt $60,550 in personal assets – furnishings, vehicles, and some retirement accounts – from creditors.
Lintott and Shaver have hired Santa Rosa attorney David Chandler to represent them in the bankruptcy proceedings.
Lintott filed under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, which means creditors are automatically barred from filing collection actions, wage garnishments or even telephone calls demanding payments. The goal for a debtor is to retain exempt property, and eventually be freed of debt through a court-approved liquidation of assets.