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Mixed verdict in McGuiness corruption trial

mcguiness_wood_verdict.jpg
Rachel Sawicki
/
Delaware Public Media
State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (right) and her attorney Steve Wood speak after the verdict in McGuiness' public corruption trial

A Kent County jury delivers its verdict in State Auditor Kathy McGuiness’s public corruption Friday.

McGuiness is found guilty of three misdemeanors: conflict of interest, structuring and official misconduct. But jurors said not-guilty on the two felonies she faced for theft and witness intimidation.

McGuiness faces up to one year in prison, but her attorney Steve Wood says that’s highly unlikely for a non-violent and first-time offender..

McGuiness and her legal team will move for a judgment for acquittal on all counts, and also file a motion for retrial. Wood says if they need to, they will be “off to the Supreme Court of Delaware.”

“People that are satisfied with this verdict ought to take a close look at the process that occurred along the way,” Wood said. “This case began with the Attorney General violating the ethical prohibitions against commenting on a defendant's right to silence. The State repeatedly violated its discovery obligations and its constitutional obligations to provide us with the evidence that we are entitled to have.”

To the structuring charge, he notes the “false statements” in the search warrant and that the court’s instructions did not define the crime the way it is defined by the legislature, ultimately arguing that the state’s indictment is charging a crime that doesn’t exist under Delaware law.

McGuiness says hiring family members is not a crime, and Wood emphasizes there are other elected officials who hired their children and spouses.

“My question is, why aren’t their lawyers standing out here today?” he said.

McGuiness calls the environment in her office “pretty fantastic,” motioning to a group of family, friends and employees that came to nearly every day of the trial.

McGuiness adds the office has “a lot of great things coming up,” like releases of their engagements and “historic” initiatives like the Gray Fox Initiative, encouraging every resident of Delaware to become a citizen watchdog over federal American Rescue Plan funds.

And McGuiness says she is still running for reelection.

Pending sentencing, state prosecutors declined to comment. But Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings did offer a statement on the verdict.

"From the moment I took office, I promised that no one would be either above the law or beneath Justice. Today’s guilty verdict confirmed that" said Jennings in her statement. "Our office’s — and the jury’s —message is clear: abuse of office will not be tolerated in Delaware.”

Sentencing will not occur until the defense files its motions and Judge William Carpenter makes a decision on them.

Despite disappointment in the verdict, McGuiness said it means “more people will know that Delaware has a state auditor.”

Following the verdict Democratic leadership in the General Assembly questioned whether McGuiness should remain in office.

"Now that she has been found guilty of official misconduct, illegally structuring contracts to flout procurement laws, and conflict of interest, we call on her to resign immediately. Any public official engaged in these behaviors is unfit for public office, but especially the state’s top financial watchdog," said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman in a joint statement. "While Auditor McGuiness considers her options and political future, the Delaware State Senate will carefully consider its Constitutional role in ensuring accountability and that the best interests of Delawareans are served.”

“We put our trust in our elected officials – especially those whose responsibility is to serve as a watchdog for the state’s finances – and when you lose that trust, you cannot serve in that position any longer," said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell in a statement. "Since the auditor was initially charged, we have maintained that we should wait and let the legal process play out. It has, and the auditor has been found guilty of several crimes that call into question her fitness to serve in this office. As a result, the auditor should step down from her position and resign immediately."

And House leadership went a step further, saying if McGuiness won't step down, Gov. Carney should move to remove her. But that statement did not include House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, who has long-time ties to McGuiness,

Lawmakers previously asked the Delaware Supreme Court about how that process would work under the state constitution. The court laid out a process in March, saying it would include some form of public hearing in the General Assembly and require a 2/3 vote in each chamber to send a bill of address to the Governor.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.