Leadership in the Delaware House and Senate are calling on State Auditor Kathy McGuiness to take a leave of absence following her indictment on felony charges.
But the embattled auditor has said she's not going anywhere.
The Delaware Department of Justice announced McGuiness' indictment on felony charges of witness intimidation and theft as well as other charges including official misconduct Monday.
The accusations lodged against McGuiness include that she structured state contracts to avoid public scrutiny and hired her own daughter after firing another employee due to a lack of available work hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. The indictment follows a year-long investigation that included a dozen whistleblowers, according to the Delaware DOJ.
A joint-statement from Delaware Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Majority Whip Elizabeth Lockman issued Wednesday night notes the auditor plays a "paramount" role in protecting the public's interest and safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
"For State Auditor Kathy McGuiness to be the subject of a grand jury indictment detailing official misconduct, theft, and witness intimidation is deeply troubling, particularly given her responsibilities. Put simply, those alleged actions, if true, represent a damaging abuse of office – both a criminal offense and a desecration of the oath of office," they collectively said.
A similar statement from House leadership was also issued Wednesday night, noting the allegations lodged against the auditor are "serious."
"If she is found guilty of the charges listed in the indictment, it would represent a breach of the public trust that would disqualify her from holding office," said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Majority Leader Val Longhurst, and Majority Whip Larry Mitchell.
Leaders in both Houses are urging McGuiness to put the public's interests ahead of her own and take a voluntary leave of absence until the investigation is resolved.
"While we firmly believe an accused person deserves their day in court, we also believe that the scale of the charges both shatters the public's confidence in Auditor McGuiness' ability to serve as a watchdog of government finances and prevents her from meeting the duties and obligations of her office," the statement from state Senate leadership said.
Both said they're weighing their own Constitutional obligations in light of the indictment.
"We are concerned that the ongoing investigation and her legal defense will make it increasingly difficult for the auditor to effectively run an agency that is the watchdog of public funds. We believe it would be in the best interests of the auditor, her office and the residents of Delaware that she voluntarily take a leave of absence during these legal proceedings," House leadership said.
The state Senate also said its continuing to consider its own Constitutional obligations in light of the indictment.
McGuiness, a Democrat, who formerly served as a Rehoboth Beach City Commissioner, is believed to be the first elected official to be indicted on felony charges while serving in office. The General Assembly's impeachment powers have not been tested in recent memory.
The Delaware Democratic Party was first to call on McGuiness to resign.
"It would be a disservice to every Delawarean for her to continue in her role," said party chairwoman Betsy Maron saying:
On Tuesday, Gov. John Carney stopped short of saying she should step aside or resign.
"The investigation is ongoing, so I don't have a lot to say there. Obviously, what's been alleged is very concerning, and we'll see what...we see from the investigation from here on out," said the governor. "I think that's a decision that she has to make with respect to that. Obviously, she has staff that do the work of the office--it's important work," he said.
McGuiness turned herself into Capitol Police Tuesday, one day after the indictment was issued. She pleaded not guilty to all charges and bail was set at $50,000 unsecured. Neither she nor her attorney commented on their way out of the courthouse, but hours after the indictment, attorney Steve Wood issued a release, proclaiming McGuiness' innocence on all charges. He said all contracts were legal and so is the hiring of family members in state government. He called the witness intimidation count "pure fiction" by former employees with an axe to grind.
In a statement, emailed Thursday morning, Wood said McGuiness "firmly rejects" all calls for her resignation or a leave of absence and will continue to do the job she was elected to do.
"Like any person charged with a crime in America, Auditor McGuiness is presumed to be innocent of the charges against her. The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle enshrined in the United States and State of Delaware constitutions, both of which all elected officials are sworn to uphold and protect. She encourages her fellow elected officials to afford her the same level of patience they have previously displayed for our justice system, and with members of the General Assembly accused of violent crimes, until guilt or innocence are adjudicated in a court of law. Ms. McGuiness reminds the General Assembly that the grand jury’s indictment, like all grand jury indictments, was based upon a one-sided presentation from witnesses and documents selected by the attorney general. Her lawyers were not permitted to attend the Grand Jury proceedings. Ms. McGuiness is confident that justice will ultimately be done in her case," said Wood in a statement.