This article has been updated to clarify that it was Democratic leadership in the House and Senate calling for the leave of absence.
DOVER — Two days after state auditor Kathy McGuiness was indicted on several charges, Delaware Senate and House Democratic leadership Wednesday called for her to take a voluntary leave of absence as the state Department of Justice continues its investigation of her alleged wrongdoing.
“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,” reads a statement from state Sens. Dave Sokola, Bryan Townsend and Elizabeth Lockman. “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.”
“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 Senate’s statement continues, before calling for Ms. McGuiness to “put the public’s interest ahead of her own” and take a voluntary leave of absence.
In their statement, state Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf, Valerie Longhurst and Larry Mitchell called the allegations serious, and said, if found guilty, “it would represent a breach of the public trust that would disqualify her from holding office.”
“...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,” their statement reads. “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.”
Ms. McGuiness, a Democrat, is charged with single counts of felony theft and felony witness intimidation, along with misdemeanor charges of conflict of interest in violation of the State Code of Conduct, official misconduct and noncompliance with procurement law by structuring state payments. She faces zero to 13 years in prison.
On Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her.
Earlier in the week, Ms. McGuiness’ attorney Steve Wood said she was “absolutely innocent” and said that she would continue in her role as auditor despite the charges.
In a statement Thursday morning, Mr. Wood said Ms. McGuiness "firmly rejects the calls for her resignation or leave of absence and will continue to do the job that 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 statement continues. "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."
The statement adds that the indictments were "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," the statement continues. "Ms. McGuiness is thankful for the outpouring of support that she has received, and understands that it is a testament to her lifetime of service."
A first case review is scheduled for Monday. The proceeding is slated to start at 9:30 a.m. at the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center (the former New Castle County Courthouse) in Wilmington.
State attorney general Kathleen Jennings alleges an abuse of office by Ms. McGuiness, which included “abuse of tax dollars to benefit campaign associates, a pattern of deceit to evade spending oversight, nepotism, theft and intimidation of employees.”
Among the other accusations made by Ms. Jennings, Ms. McGuiness allegedly hired her teenage daughter for a seasonal job without an interview, and provided her access to a state-issued vehicle.
The Delaware Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust found that Ms. McGuiness allegedly orchestrated a state contract with the My Campaign Group (which consulted for her in an unsuccessful 2016 political campaign for lieutenant governor), masked her spending and avoided oversight.
This story has been updated to include a response from Ms. McGuiness.