A resolution meant to give State Auditor Kathy McGuiness notice of an impending impeachment process to remove her from office passed the Senate July 25 by a 13-7 vote, now sending the document to the House for consideration.
“She has left this body no choice,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, who called the special session to consider Senate Concurrent Resolution 128, which he introduced July 14.
“In the interest of due process, we waited,” Sokola said, even though the Senate could have acted sooner.
McGuiness attended the special session, sitting along the edge of the Senate floor on the Republican side watching the proceedings.
Minority Whip Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, first rose in opposition to the resolution.
“We stand opposed to the timing of the resolution. This individual in the eyes of the law is still innocent,” he said, adding she has not been convicted. “Details are extremely important.”
He said the judge could ultimately acquit her of all charges, even though a Kent County Superior Court jury found her guilty July 1 on three misdemeanor charges – conflict of interest, official misconduct and violation of state procurement law. Superior Court Judge William Carpenter has yet to set a sentencing date, and he has yet to rule on motions for acquittal and a new trial, which have been filed by McGuiness’ attorney Steve Wood. In particular, one motion refers to a violation of the Brady rule by state prosecutors, who Wood states withheld information that would prove McGuiness innocent. In response, the state said Wood is wrong and his claims are “nearly identical to those made in [the] pretrial motion to dismiss, which the court denied May 18.”
During the Senate special session, Pettyjohn asked for a motion to table the resolution, but the motion failed.
“We shouldn’t do this,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South. “I didn't vote for this person. I don’t know her very well. What I do know about her is that she was freely and fairly elected … Your party is going to have a say in seven weeks whether she can stay in office. They are the ones who should make that decision.”
Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said violations that involve breach of public trust and conflict of interest are significant enough for the Senate to move forward to remove McGuiness.
“This qualifies as the type of high crime for which an elected official should be removed,” he said. “We must focus on a person’s conduct in office.”
For months, Democrat leadership has called for McGuiness to step down following her 2021 indictment on five charges – felony theft, felony intimidation and three misdemeanors. Calls for her to resign again revved up after a Kent County Superior Court jury found her guilty of the misdemeanor counts – the first elected official in state history to be convicted while in office.
As of the Cape Gazette press deadline, there was no information on when the House will hold its special session.
Following her jury conviction, House Democrats specifically called on Gov. John Carney to remove McGuiness from office, but in a statement, Carney said he reserves a decision on removal until McGuiness is sentenced, and Carpenter makes a final determination on the charges. However, Carney did say that he believes McGuiness cannot do her job effectively under the circumstances.
Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said it is premature to take action, and he supports Carney for waiting on the judge’s final decision.
McGuiness, a Democrat elected state auditor in 2018, continues to run for re-election, and she faces Democrat challenger Lydia York in a Sept. 13 primary.