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Judge rules public shouldn't pay for private attorney in McGuiness case

A Delaware Superior Court judge denies a request from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness to have taxpayers pay for her private attorney.

State Auditor McGuiness faces multiple felony and misdemeanor charges over her handling of contracts and hiring while in office.

Her private attorney, Steve Wood, filed a motion last week seeking to allow himself to represent McGuiness in lieu of a public defender, stating because the Delaware Department of Justice is the one bringing the charges, they wouldn't be able to represent her in this case.

The controversy surrounding the request stems from the fact that McGuiness wanted the public to pay her attorney, at a rate of $550 per hour.

The DOJ objected to the request, arguing it would be unfair to make the public pay for the auditor’s private attorney, when alternatives exist.

In her ruling. Judge Jan Jurden says Wood failed to acknowledge the part of Delaware law that lays out this specific situation, which says if the court determines the DOJ is unable to represent a public officer, a public defender from the Office of Defense Services can instead.

ODS operates independently of the DOJ, and typically appoints public defenders for Delawareans who can’t afford a lawyer in criminal cases. Public Defenders are paid at the public rate of around $100 an hour.

The judge's ruling means McGuiness can either have a public defender appointed to her case, or she can pay out of pocket for her private attorney.

McGuiness, a former Rehoboth Beach commissioner and pharmacist, is paid $112,000 annually in her role as state auditor, and has loaned out over $75,000 to her political campaigns in past years.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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