DOJ asks choose to make auditor pay for personal lawyer or settle for public defender

Delaware prosecutors want a judge to make state Auditor Kathy McGuiness accept a public defender or pay for her own defense against criminal corruption charges, according to a Monday filing in New Castle County Superior Court. 

The filing is a response to McGuiness’ Friday request that a judge allow her private attorney, McCarter & English partner Steve Wood, to represent her at rate of $550 an hour paid for by the public. 

It sets up in a conflict in which Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden will need to decide whether to allow Wood to continue to represent McGuiness at private-law-firm rates paid by the state or whether McGuiness must accept representation from the public defenders office if she does not want to pay a private attorney. 

Having pleaded not guilty last week, McGuiness is in the early stages of defending herself against two felony and multiple public corruption misdemeanors charged by prosecutors in the Delaware Department of Justice. It is a locally unprecedented indictment of a sitting, statewide-elected official that accuses McGuiness of rigging state contracts to avoid scrutiny and hiring her daughter in a do-nothing job. 

Delaware state Auditor Kathy McGuiness, left, leaves the New Castle County Courthouse with her attorney Steve Wood Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. McGuiness was indicted Monday on criminal charges that she hired and supervised her daughter in a do-nothing state job, that she circumvented state contracting laws to shield public payments to a political campaign group from regulator scrutiny and that she spied on and discriminated against employees who questioned her conduct.

A Democrat, former Rehoboth Beach commissioner and pharmacist, McGuiness is paid $112,000 annually as state auditor and, as a private citizen, likely would not qualify for representation paid for by the public.

But Delaware law allows public officials sued or criminally indicted on charges related to their state work to be represented in court by a state-provided attorney.  

Normally, that responsibility would fall to the Delaware Department of Justice, whose prosecutors indicted McGuiness. Both McGuiness’ attorney and prosecutors agree that because of that conflict, the Department of Justice couldn’t represent her.

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