Gag order placed on state auditor case

Wilmington senator removed from committee after accusation of verbally abusing female legislator
November 19, 2021

A gag order issued Nov. 4 has put an end to comments made by both defense and prosecution in the state’s criminal misconduct case against State Auditor Kathy McGuiness.

Superior Court Judge William Carpenter issued the gag order, preventing those involved with the case from making extrajudicial statements to the news media or publicly commenting on the case.

McGuiness was indicted by a grand jury Oct. 11 on felony theft and witness intimidation charges, and three misdemeanors in connection with official misconduct. She pleaded not guilty to the charges a day later, and since then, both defense and prosecution have filed motions with the court concerning sanctions against Attorney General Kathleen Jennings for statements made to the press, and McGuiness’s request for the state to pay her $500-an-hour attorney.

The court rejected McGuiness’s request for a private, state-paid attorney, stating she can use a public defender instead. Following the decision, her attorney, Steven Wood, said he will continue to represent McGuiness as her case winds through New Castle Superior Court. McGuiness is scheduled for her first case review Monday, Jan. 10, in Wilmington, with a trial scheduled for May. For now, jury selection is slated to begin May 12, with a trial starting May 16.

Wood issued a statement following McGuiness’s indictment explaining that she did nothing wrong in hiring her daughter for a paid position in the state auditor’s office, and denying that she intimidated witnesses. He also said the auditor’s office hired a consulting firm to do various professional, policy-related and communications functions, in answer to the charge that McGuiness crafted a contract with Wilmington-based My Campaign Group to avoid state oversight.

McGuiness continues to work in her elected capacity despite calls from the Democratic Party for her to step down, and from Democratic leadership for her to take a leave of absence. She participated in Veterans Day activities at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand and attended the funeral of former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. She continues a court fight with the Department of Health and Social Services relating to Medicaid information access, and on Nov. 18 released a press release offering fraud protection advice while celebrating Fraud Awareness Week.

The General Assembly is seeking guidance from a former Supreme Court justice who will provide them with direction on how to remove an elected official from office and under what conditions.

A report is expected before the General Assembly convenes Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Wilmington senator removed from committee

Meanwhile, Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, who was charged in May with offensive touching and disorderly conduct after police say he punched a woman and threw a glass of water against the wall of a Wilmington restaurant, was removed Nov. 13 from the Senate Capital Improvement Committee, which puts together the state’s bond bill.

Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, referred to a verbal altercation between Brown and another legislator that prompted his removal.

“Verbal abuse is abuse, full stop, and it cannot go unpunished. In the Senate, there will be consequences for behavior unbecoming an elected official,” he said. “I have also requested that Sen. Brown enroll in an anger-management course, and I am committed to helping connect him to those resources.”

Following his arrest, Brown was removed as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, has questioned whether the pending report on removing elected officials will be applied to Brown when completed. He also raised concerns regarding a report that Brown yelled profanities at Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, while the two attended Gov. John Carney’s signings of several criminal justice bills, including Brown’s expungement bill.

“This pattern of violent behavior toward women, including the allegations of domestic abuse reported in May, must not be tolerated. The Delaware Democrat Party has done nothing. Senate leadership has merely given Sen. Brown a couple slaps on the wrist. Removal from committees has, apparently, only emboldened this behavior, as he knows nothing serious will occur,” Lawson said. “It’s time we seriously consider a full Rules and Ethics Committee review of Sen. Brown’s behavior and the allegations against him.”

Senate Republicans, including Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, also called for the Rules and Ethics Committee to review Brown’s actions.

Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth Lockman, D-Wilmington West, who chairs the six-member, bipartisan Senate Rules and Ethics Committee, said Brown’s trial is scheduled for early December, and she plans to closely monitor those proceedings.

“Whether or not Sen. Brown is found guilty, I believe our committee should review the facts of that case and other accusations of abusive behavior that may not have risen to the level of criminal conduct,” she said. “I plan to convene the Senate Rules and Ethics Committee in the weeks ahead to adopt the procedures for investigating these matters and making whatever recommendations the committee deems appropriate to the full Delaware state Senate.”

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