High court upholds one McGuiness conviction, reverses another

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The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the nepotism-related conviction of the former Delaware State Auditor. Kathy McGuiness, but sent misconduct in office charges back to Superior Court.

McGuiness, a one-time rising star in Democratic Party circles, appealed the two misdemeanor convictions, which came with no jail time. While facing charges McGuiness remained in office for a time but later lost a Democratic primary battle and eventually resigned from the post, while continuing to proclaim her innocence.

McGuiness and lawyers have claimed that charges of hiring her daughter and keeping her on the payroll while attending college out of state amounted to selective prosecution by the State of Delaware. At the time, McGuiness’s daughter was retained while other temporary staff were discharged, the state alleged.

The high court made it clear that it did not buy the selective prosecution argument. Instead, it cited issues with evidence in another case that influenced the jury and reversed the second conviction.

“Notwithstanding the defendant’s inflamed rhetoric, the record amply demonstrates that she received a fair trial. The defendant raises a mélange of issues on appeal, including that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of the charged crimes and violated the defendant’s due process rights by suppressing exculpatory evidence. We reject those arguments because they distort the trial court’s holdings or misapply the law. We conclude, however, that one of the defendant’s convictions must be reversed because the legal insufficiency of one of the charges resulted in the spillover of evidence that prejudiced the jury’s consideration of a closely linked charge,” Chief Justice Collins Seitz, Jr. wrote in the opinion. Seitz also issued a short dissent.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings, issued the following statement: “We took on this case, and created the Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust, because of one basic principle: nobody should be above the law or beneath justice. Today’s ruling vindicates that principle. After more than two years of endless litigation and theatrical rhetoric, the bottom line is that a jury, a Superior Court judge, and now the Delaware Supreme Court have all concluded that the ex-Auditor’s actions were criminal. I am grateful for the Court’s judgment; I am proud of our trial and appeals teams’ work; and above all else, I am inspired by the courage of the whistleblowers who came forward to seek justice.”

It is unclear whether the state will pursue a new trial, given the expense and the fact that the other conviction survived appeal.