General Assembly leaders call on McGuiness to 'immediately resign' following verdict

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Senate and some members of House Democratic leadership on Friday called for the immediate resignation of Delaware Auditor Kathy McGuiness after a jury found her guilty of three public corruption misdemeanors.

Gov. John Carney questioned how McGuiness could stay in office – but he did not directly call for her resignation or removal.

“He finds it difficult to understand how the auditor, who swore an oath to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, can continue to serve the people of Delaware effectively given the circumstances,” said spokeswoman Emily Hershman.

McGuiness was found guilty on Friday of conflict of interest, structuring and official misconduct. Each carries the potential for one year in prison. She will be sentenced later.

Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness looks at her attorney Steve Wood after a jury returned guilty verdicts against McGuiness Friday, July 1, 2022, at the Kent County Courthouse.
Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness looks at her attorney Steve Wood after a jury returned guilty verdicts against McGuiness Friday, July 1, 2022, at the Kent County Courthouse.

She is the first statewide-elected official in Delaware to be both criminally charged and found guilty of a crime while in office. As auditor, her role is to investigate and safeguard public money in state government.

The conflict-of-interest misdemeanor that she was found guilty of stemmed from her hiring her daughter to work in the auditor’s office.

McGuiness is running for reelection.

She has many ties to lawmakers in Dover. Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos is her former chief of staff. She has been a longtime associate of House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, serving as his campaign treasurer for nearly two decades. House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst endorsed McGuiness during her campaign for auditor.

In the hours after her conviction, there was a growing drumbeat among Democrats for her to no longer serve as state auditor. Yet it was clear Democrats were not on the same page for how that should be done.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend and Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman said in a joint statement that McGuiness’ actions “show a brazen willingness to circumvent the same open government laws and accounting standards she was elected to enforce.”

“Any public official engaged in these behaviors is unfit for public office, but especially the state’s top financial watchdog,” they said in the 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.”

It’s not clear if this means the Senate will return to take action against her in the coming weeks or months. The 151st session technically ended on June 30, though lawmakers didn’t finish legislating until the early morning of July 1. They could return for a special session.

Travis Williams, spokesman for the Delaware Democratic Party, said the organization’s position hasn’t changed. The party still believes she “breached the public's trust and should not continue to serve in her current role.”

“Whether it's by her own resignation, impeachment, or other appropriate avenues of removal, we believe that she should no longer hold that office,” he wrote in an email.

Longhurst and House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell, in a joint statement Friday night, called for McGuiness to step down, since her being guilty of several crimes "call into question her fitness to serve in this office."

Schwartzkopf was not included in this joint statement. He has not commented on McGuiness' verdict.

Longhurst and Mitchell called on Carney to "exercise the powers he has to ‘remove from office any public officer convicted of misbehavior in office'" if McGuiness does not resign.

"She cannot continue to serve in this position, and the governor can take action to remove her from office should she refuse to resign," they said.

A HISTORIC TRIALWhy the state auditor's daughter took the stand in ongoing public corruption trial

After her indictment last year, House and Senate Democratic leadership called for McGuinness to take a leave of absence, citing “the potential conflicts of interest that will likely arise if the Auditor continues to actively serve in her elected financial watchdog role while facing criminal charges related to alleged abuses of those powers,” their joint statement at the time read.

Lawmakers had been hesitant to take action against the auditor, due to confusion over three sentences in the state constitution that sanctions the process to remove an elected official from office. It would be unprecedented for the General Assembly to do so.

Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, a Newark Democrat, and Rep. Michael Smith, a Pike Creek Republican, sent a letter in October, requesting lawmakers file and vote on a resolution to ask the governor to remove McGuiness from office.

No other lawmakers signed the letter, and the resolution ultimately did not have the votes to pass.

Wilson-Anton, in a statement on Friday, said the “jury has revealed what we’ve known for months: that Kathy McGuiness is not fit to serve in a position that requires this level of public trust.”

“It is a disgrace that neither the legislature nor the governor took any action to remove her from office, despite mine and Rep. Smith’s best efforts and clear evidence of her misconduct,” she said.

She called on colleagues to not let McGuinness stay in office. Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, tweeted on Friday that she also believes McGuiness should resign.

Rep. Eric Morrison, in a Facebook post, said that McGuiness is "an embarrassment to the Delaware Democratic Party and to the state."

"It is clear that her office cannot be trusted to serve the people of Delaware as we all deserve," he wrote. "And she further diminishes the people’s greatly sagging trust of government institutions, public offices, and elected officials.

"I call upon State Auditor McGuiness to resign her position immediately."

Other House members do not agree.

House Judiciary Chair Rep. Sean Lynn said in a statement that it “remains to be determined whether misdemeanor convictions on their own are enough to remove a public official from office.”

“There are several unknown steps that could take place: We do not know whether the Department of Justice will attempt to disqualify the auditor from continuing to hold office, or whether the governor will exercise his constitutional powers to remove the auditor."

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Lynn said it is “prudent for us to see what actions come next from these entities before determining any next steps as a body.”

House and Senate leadership announced in November that they would formally research the General Assembly’s power, with Randy Holland, the longest-serving Delaware Supreme Court justice in history, serving as an adviser.

In January, lawmakers approved a resolution that asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in on how the General Assembly should invoke these powers.

Holland died at age 75 in March, just two weeks after the the Supreme Court issued a 28-page opinion. While the court agrees that some aspects of the article of the constitution are ambiguous, they wrote one aspect is not:

“Other than the Lieutenant Governor and members of the General Assembly,” the court writes, “the Governor may – not must – remove any public officer for reasonable cause if the General Assembly presents a bill of address to the Governor, after a vote of two-thirds of each House.”

Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 256-2466 or at Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Calls for McGuinness removal, resignation increase following verdict