Former auditor McGuiness files defamation suit against prosecutors

Concurrent appeal heads to Delaware Supreme Court Sept. 20
August 15, 2023

Former State Auditor Kathy McGuiness has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against Attorney General Kathy Jennings, former Deputy Attorney General Matt Denney and investigator Frank Robinson.

The lawsuit stems from McGuiness’ conviction in July 2022 on three misdemeanor charges, including official misconduct, conflict of interest and structuring. She was found not guilty on charges of felony theft and intimidation. 

The misconduct and conflict of interest charges stem from McGuiness hiring her daughter and her friends at a time when other employees left because their hours had been cut. At trial, prosecutors alleged that McGuiness’ daughter’s paychecks were deposited into a joint bank account held by McGuiness and her daughter. On the stand, her daughter denied that she ever gave her mother money, and McGuiness’ attorney Steve Wood submitted evidence that the bank account was a starter account commonly opened by parents for their children. Wood said McGuiness did not know she was violating any laws when she hired her daughter. He said the state’s sentencing recommendation was grossly disproportionate and unjust. 

Despite her conviction, McGuiness ran for re-election in the Democratic primary, but was soundly defeated by challenger Lydia York by a 35,881 to 14,640 margin. The structuring conviction was overturned in August, but Judge William C. Carpenter denied McGuiness’ motion for a new trial. 

McGuiness was sentenced to probation in October and resigned the office she had held since 2019. York was elected as the state’s auditor in the November general election.

A former Rehoboth Beach commissioner, McGuiness has appealed her case to Delaware Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments Wednesday, Sept. 20, in Dover. Concurrent with that is McGuiness’ civil suit against the prosecutorial team that led to her downfall.

In her suit, McGuiness claims Robinson used false information in his search warrant and affidavit for probable cause that allowed investigators to search the auditor’s office. Attorney Ronald Poliquin, representing McGuiness, said the state violated McGuiness’ constitutional rights by seizing items that were acquired through a search warrant that was obtained through false evidence. In his legal filing, Poliquin said Robinson admitted on the stand during the criminal trial that he had written the search warrant based on evidence he knew was false.

Meanwhile, Denney and Jennings are part of the suit based on an October 2021 press conference where Jennings, flanked by Denney, publicly announced the charges against McGuiness. Poliquin argues that Denney and Jennings committed slander against McGuiness because they knew the affidavit of probable cause and search warrant were based on false information but went ahead with the press conference anyway.

McGuiness is seeking monetary damages from the three defendants and has asked for a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Wilmington.

Mat Marshall, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Justice, said, “This is yet another sad, desperate and wasteful attempt by the ex-auditor to change the consequences of her actions. We’ve heard this tirade before. It was rejected, and she was convicted by a jury of her peers. That she continues to proclaim her innocence is not news.”


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter