Supreme Court rules on McGuiness convictions

Former auditor’s actions deemed criminal, but one charge remanded for new trial
February 13, 2024

The Delaware Supreme Court upheld a misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest against former State Auditor Kathy McGuiness while dismissing a charge of official misconduct and remanding the matter back to Superior Court for a new trial.

In a Feb. 13 ruling, the court found that McGuiness received a fair trial and she was guilty of the conflict-of-interest charge, but the official misconduct charge was arrived at due to legal inefficiencies that prejudiced the jury at McGuiness’ criminal trial in July 2022. 

In a statement, Attorney General Kathy Jennings said, “We took on this case, and created the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust, because of one basic principle: nobody should be above the law or beneath justice. Today’s ruling vindicates that principle. After more than two years of endless litigation and theatrical rhetoric, the bottom line is that a jury, a Superior Court judge, and now the Delaware Supreme Court have all concluded that the ex-auditor’s actions were criminal. I am grateful for the court’s judgment; I am proud of our trial and appeals teams’ work; and above all else, I am inspired by the courage of the whistleblowers who came forward to seek justice.”

In a statement through her attorney Steven Wood, McGuiness said, Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision, but we respect it. We are grateful that we had a full opportunity to present our arguments to the court.”

McGuiness was charged with five criminal counts accusing her of abusing her office: conflict of interest, official misconduct, structuring, theft and intimidation. After a nearly three-week trial in Delaware Superior Court in Dover, McGuiness was convicted on three counts: conflict of interest, misconduct, and structuring, a charge related to McGuiness allegedly structuring state contracts to be below the threshold for public bidding. The conflict of interest and official misconduct charges were related to hiring her daughter and her daughter’s friend for jobs in the auditor’s office.

McGuiness was found not guilty of the two felony charges of theft and intimidation. The structuring charge was later thrown out by the court. 

McGuiness resigned the office after receiving a year’s probation in October 2022; she had already been defeated by Lydia York in the Democratic primary that September. York would go on to win the general election in November. 

Despite no longer being in office, McGuiness pressed on with her appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court. Her attorney made eight arguments for why McGuiness should either have her convictions overturned or receive a new trial. The first of those arguments was that the state violated McGuiness’ due process rights by failing to produce exculpatory evidence for the defense’s review during the trial. The court rejected this argument, saying the state acted in good faith and McGuiness did not establish which evidence would be exculpatory to her case. The court also rejected arguments that McGuiness was the victim of a selective and vindictive prosecution.

Where the court did agree with Wood and McGuiness was related to the official misconduct charge. Wood argued the structuring and misconduct charges were intertwined, and the structuring evidence prejudiced the jury into entering a conviction on the misconduct charge. In its opinion, the court said that to convict McGuiness of misconduct, the jury needed to find she intended to obtain a personal benefit in connection with the charged misconduct. Based on the record, the court said the state could not establish a personal benefit if the jury only considered the evidence supporting that particular charge. The misconduct conviction was overturned and then remanded back to the Superior Court for a new trial. 


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