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Former Newport police chief temporarily blocked from taking town council seat

Delaware Public Media

A Superior Court judge has temporarily blocked a former Newport police chief convicted of misconduct from taking office as a town commissioner. 

Michael Capriglione was one of four people elected to Newport’s Town Council earlier this month. He was set to be sworn in ahead of the monthly Town Council meeting Thursday evening. 


Capriglione’s decades-long career as Newport Police Chief ended when he was convicted of official misconduct, a misdemeanor, for ordering the destruction of surveillance footage that showed him hitting another vehicle in the police department parking lot.


The Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition Wednesday asking the Superior Court to temporarily block Capriglione from being sworn in, until the court can determine whether he’s constitutionally eligible to hold the seat.


Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden granted that request Thursday evening, less than an hour before he was set to be sworn in during a 6:30 p.m. “reorganization” meeting. 


The state claims official misconduct qualifies as an “infamous crime” that prevents a person from holding public office under the state Constitution. 


David Skoranski, who represented the state during a virtual court hearing Thursday afternoon, argued irreparable harm would be done if Capriglione were sworn in, noting he would hold a position of power over people who acted as witnesses in his previous trial. 


Capriglione is also currently suing the Town of Newport for money he says he is owed from his time as police chief. 


Stephani Ballard Wagner, a lawyer representing Capriglione, argued during Thursday’s hearing that residents of Newport knew about Capriglione’s past when they elected him— and that the state should exercise caution in seeking to overturn the will of the voters. According to DOJ, Capriglione was elected with just 32 votes, in the town of about 1,000 people. 


Under the Town of Newport’s charter, any qualified voter who is at least 21 years of age, is a United States citizen, has lived in the town for at least two years and has not been convicted of a felony is eligible to hold the office of commissioner. Skoranski argued that the state Constitution supersedes the town charter. 


Christopher Griffiths, Town of Newport solicitor, said the Town takes no position on whether Capriglione should be barred from holding office. But he did say he expects a public “outcry”—and asked for the court to expedite the pending litigation between Capriglione and the town, which the town wants dismissed. 


“This decision unduly prejudices neither Newport nor Capriglione,” Jurden wrote in her order granting the stay. 


She noted Griffiths said the Town of Newport would still have a quorum on its Town Council without Capriglione taking office, and could continue to conduct business. 


“As for Capriglione, he has cited no authority to suggest that he must be sworn in tonight,” Jurden wrote. “On the other side of the ledger, the State has raised important questions about whether the public trust would be harmed should Capriglione hold an ‘office of trust, honor or profit under this State.’”


Jurden promised to hold another hearing and issue a final decision on Capriglione’s eligibility within 21 days.

This story has been updated. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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