Calls continued to mount Tuesday for Delaware’s auditor, who was convicted Friday of three misdemeanors, including official misconduct, to leave her office by resigning or being impeached.
Kathleen McGuiness said after the trial that she planned to stay in the job and run for re-election this year.
Gov. John Carney on Friday said McGuiness needs to resign, but that he can’t move against her — yet.
He has already said he doesn’t believe McGuiness can do her job effectively.
“The Auditor of Accounts has been found guilty by a jury of three misdemeanors,” Carney said in a press release about noon. “The Delaware Supreme Court has made it clear that under Article XV, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution, addressing the removal of ‘any public officer convicted of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime.'”
He said that a governor has no power to act until a judgment of conviction is entered by the Superior Court, and the judge in the case has not yet done that.
In addition, McGuiness’s lawyer, Steve Wood, said he was going to file a motion asking the judge for a judgment of acquittal, which could delay the official notation of conviction.
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Wood for comment.
After a three-week trial, McGuiness was found guilty of official misconduct, structuring and conflict of interest in Superior Court in Kent County.
The structuring charge alleged that McGuiness arranged payments to a campaign consultant in a way that circumvented the state’s procurement code so they wouldn’t be caught in routine checks.
The conflict of interest charge alleged that McGuiness violated the state officials’ code of conduct by hiring her daughter, Saylar McGuiness, and affording her benefits not available to others, including the ability to work remotely while in college, drive a state vehicle and “bank hours” then apply them to weeks during which she did little or no work.
The official misconduct charge required the state to prove that McGuiness knowingly and willfully abused the powers of her office to enrich herself or disadvantage someone else. The state had maintained that if McGuiness was found guilty of one or more of the other charges, she should also be found guilty of official misconduct.
McGuiness was acquitted of felony charges of theft involving the pay received by her daughter, Saylar, and intimidation, which alleged she had influenced or tampered with witnesses to affect their ability or availability to testify.
The misdemeanors all have a penalty of up to a year in jail, but Wood said after the trial that it was very unusual for someone to go to jail for a misdemeanor unless it involved violence.
Many of the calls for McGuiness to leave office have come from those in her own Democrat party.
Shortly after Carney’s press release Tuesday, the Delaware Senate chimed in.
Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman said in a joint statement that Delaware law is clear, but Carney could not legally remove her from office yet.
“At this juncture, we believe both the Constitution and the gravity of Auditor McGuiness’s crimes compel the General Assembly to make use of its own authority to remove her from office, whether via Article VI impeachment or Article III removal proceedings,” the Senate statement said. “Today, we want to make crystal clear our intentions to do exactly that for the Delawareans who are demanding accountability following the Auditor’s egregious breach of public trust.”
Their statement said that Delawareans deserved an auditor who will safeguard taxpayer dollars and good fiscal stewardship ethically, expertly and free from further distraction or additional abuses of power.
“In short, the power of incumbency must not prevail over the people’s rightful demands for accountability,” the statement said. “We once again call on Auditor McGuiness to place the public’s interest ahead of her own and resign. Otherwise, the General Assembly must exercise its Constitutional powers and the Senate is prepared to lead the way.”
The calls for McGuiness to resign started a few hours after her conviction about noon on Friday.
”As we said at the time of the indictment, Kathy’s actions are beneath the dignity of any office and disqualifying,” said Elizabeth D. Maron, state chair of the Delaware Democrat Party, that day. “Now that a jury has found her guilty of not one but three criminal public corruption crimes, we only feel more strongly.”
She said Mrs. McGuiness cannot be counted on to do her job in accordance with the law.
“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,” the House statement said.
“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.
The House leaders said that if McGuiness won’t resign, Carney should exercise his powers to remove her.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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