DOVER — Four Delaware Department of Justice employees have been placed on administrative leave for discipline-related reasons at various times in 2015, state officials confirmed this week.
Two undisclosed deputy attorneys general in Kent and Sussex counties currently are suspended with pay as separate investigations proceed, while two other employees have been on administrative leave at some point, according to the Delaware Department of Justice.
The other employees on administrative leave were non-attorneys, one with pay for four days and no longer at DOJ and the other without pay for 10 work days and still with DOJ, officials said. Their job positions were not disclosed.
A DOJ spokesman said the Sussex deputy attorney general had been on administrative leave with pay for 29 work days as of Thursday and the Kent deputy attorney general 13 days as the discipline process proceeds; any potential personnel action is pending.
Details regarding the alleged incidents under scrutiny were not disclosed by the DOJ.
Citing the nature of pending personnel issues, Attorney General Matt Denn declined a media request for an interview this week. Through a spokesman, the AG’s office did respond to media questions and requests for available information via email and telephone conversation exchanges.
On Wednesday, a DOJ spokesman responded to a media request to clarify the policy on confirming employee-related suspension issues with a statement:
“DOJ will respond to specific questions about employee suspensions (technically administrative leave) as they are asked, but will do so without providing the names of employees involved in pending personnel actions.
“We will respond in a way that is legal and thoughtful based on the agency’s obligations to due process and respecting the personal privacy rights of its employees balanced with an interest in transparency as a public agency.
“That includes responding to requests for updated status of disciplines previously confirmed as pending.”
In mid-March, the DOJ said it investigated a possible incident involving an undisclosed Sussex County prosecutor now on leave and determined no criminal charges were warranted. The statement referred to unnamed participants.
“DOJ has taken the incident very seriously and believes it was highly inappropriate,” a statement read at the time.
“After an investigation, it has been determined that the elements of the event do not warrant charging or prosecuting any of the participants with a crime.
“The status of the deputy attorney general is that he continues to be suspended with pay, pending personnel action.”
‘Not a vacation’
The DOJ said some discipline-related matters may take a significant amount of time to determine based on the severity of potential offenses and their drastic impact personally and professionally, along with an employee’s right to appeal if chosen.
“As a general statement, time is required for situations to be investigated and for discipline to be proposed and, if an employee chooses, appealed within the agency,” the DOJ stated.
“Some more serious potential offenses may require longer periods of investigation, and during such time the employee will remain on administrative leave. Some are different and employees may remain working or working with altered responsibilities while discipline is pending.
“The disciplinary actions any DOJ employee can face — up to and including termination — carry serious consequences for their careers, their reputations and their income, and administrative leave while such action is pending is not a vacation.
“DOJ’s disciplinary process is internal, and our personnel actions are not reported to or approved by any other agency.”
With two state prosecutors not handling a workload while on administrative leave, the DOJ said some cases will be reassigned among the more than 200 prosecutors within the agency.
Not connected to reversal
The Kent County prosecutor currently on administrative leave was not associated with the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling on Jan. 20 to reverse a Superior Court conviction and vacate a death sentence in the 2012 murder trial of Isaiah W. McCoy, the DOJ confirmed. That case was remanded to Superior Court for further proceedings in accordance with the opinion, the Supreme Court said in its conclusion.
In the case, the Supreme Court addressed in papers what it described as “the (alleged) pervasive unprofessional conduct of the prosecutor that permeated these proceedings and compromised McCoy’s right of self-representation.” The prosecutor’s name was not disclosed in court documents.
In documents, the Supreme Court cited what it described as a judge’s “most extensive — and final — reprimand to the prosecutor” delivered during the penalty phase of the trial:
“Listen, I’m reaching a level which I am very upset (about) (t)he way the prosecution is handling this case,” the judge said in court, according to documents.
“I don’t appreciate (smart-expletive) remarks, pardon my French but that’s what it is, (prosecutor). You’re being disrespectful to the Court as well as Mr. McCoy and witnesses.
“Your antics in this trial have been totally disrespectful, in my view, of what properly should have happened in a court procedure, particularly a serious matter like this.
“I don’t appreciate off-the-cuff remarks. I don’t appreciate your making frivolous statements in my view or matters which should be taken seriously. I don’t like the cynicism that’s being generated.
“I don’t like the facial expressions that you make sometimes.”
The McCoy trial was conducted when Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III was Delaware’s attorney general.
Responding to a request for reaction to the Supreme Court ruling this week, the DOJ said:
“ ... DOJ respects the opinion of the Delaware Supreme Court, and it is important to note that the court’s opinion did not question the integrity of the evidence presented at trial.
“The courts and citizens of this State may properly expect the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct by its prosecutors, and the Department of Justice accepts that responsibility.
“Nothing less is acceptable and such honorable and professional conduct is exhibited by prosecutors every day in courtrooms and in cases around the state.”
Court security evaluated
After the Delaware Administrative Office of the Courts was questioned by media in February regarding a possible alleged incident at the Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown, a statement followed, including:
“ ... The Judiciary has been actively working on its policies regarding courthouse security and who should have firearms, and has sought advice from the best sources,” the statement read in part.
“Although we cannot comment on these specific incidents, they confirm the Judiciary’s belief that we need to continue to work with our Capitol Police partners to make our courthouses as safe as possible.”
The Court was first questioned by the Delaware State News on Feb. 13 regarding a possible incident, and responded with, ““Because this involves a personnel matter, we cannot comment on this specific situation. However, we take any matter concerning the safety of our employees and the public very seriously and will take appropriate action.”
On Thursday, the Court issued an updated statement through a spokesman after asked whether any courthouse personnel, including bailiffs or otherwise, was perhaps involved in any alleged incident:
“This remains a personnel matter, so we cannot comment on the situation. However, as we said earlier, safety is a priority at our courthouses and appropriate personnel action is being taken.”
When contacted about a possible incident at the time, Capitol Police said it did not confirm or deny if any investigations are underway. Comment would come only if criminal charges are filed, authorities said.