The trial of State Auditor Kathy McGuiness kicked off Tuesday with testimony from one current and one former employee.
Both employees worked as auditors under former State Auditor Tom Wagner’s tenure, prior to McGuiness’ election.
After McGuiness took over, staff meetings began with employees being asked to recite the office motto, “confidentiality,” they said.
Prosecutors hope to establish that McGuiness created a hostile work environment where employees were encouraged to remain quiet about impropriety.
The defense team asserts that confidentiality is essential to the auditing profession and is enshrined in national auditing standards and codes of conduct.
The first employee said when others began returning to the office after initial COVID-19 lockdowns, she presented a note from her doctor that said she should continue working from home because of underlying health conditions.
McGuiness’ chief of staff, Alaina Sewell, told the employee her job is considered essential and the auditor III position is not conducive to completely-remote work. She would have to work in the office for part of the week.
After Sewell saw the employee eating lunch in a communal workspace and interacting with others without wearing a mask, Sewell informed the employee she would have to return to work in the office.
On cross-examination, McGuiness’ attorney referred to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Code of Professional Conduct and the Delaware Office of the Auditor of Accounts Code of Conduct, both of which emphasize the importance of confidentiality to protect auditees’ sensitive information.
The second employee no longer works in the Office of the Auditor.
He worked for the office from 2015 until 2021 before resigning to take on a new job teaching.
When teaching didn’t work out, the employee asked to return to the office, which he did in Dec. 2021.
Upon his return, he was reprimanded for making inappropriate jokes about fellow employees and accusing other employees of improper conduct.
On one occasion, several employees overheard him remarking that Sewell’s skirt was so short that if a gust of wind came it could “blow her skirt up and show her stuff.”
He accused the office’s administrative staff of “being shady” and engaging in a cover-up in advance of McGuiness’ criminal trial.
He asked another employee who was moving on to a new job if the reason she was leaving is because of McGuiness’ indictment.
He resigned in April 2022 and said he left on good terms.
A third witness was not permitted to testify after Wood objected, arguing they were only being brought forward to make McGuiness look bad, not to offer any relevant information that could help the jury decide whether she’s innocent or guilty.
After lunch, the state called Andrena Burd, a former employee of the Auditor’s Office who resigned in 2019 before the investigation into McGuiness began.
Burd worked for the Office of the Auditor under McGuiness’ predecessor, Tom Wagner, as well.
After Wagner became ill, he tapped employee Kathleen Davies to run the office. Davies would later run in the Democratic primary election against McGuiness.
Burd begin personally investigating Davies and made a series of complaints which ultimately resulted in Davies’ termination.
Burd contacted McGuiness when she was running for auditor to share examples of Davies’ purported misconduct. McGuiness met with her on three occasions, she said.
During an unemployment trial and later during a Merit Employees Relations Board meeting, it was determined that Burd’s private investigation into Davies was largely based on hearsay and misunderstanding. Davies’ employment was reinstated.
Burd was later hired at Delaware State University as an internal auditor. Soon, she began yet another personal investigation into the use of university credit cards, known as P-cards.
After she found examples of faculty members using P-cards inappropriately, such as to purchase a SiriusXM subscription, she began taking screenshots and texting them to McGuiness, saying the public needed to know about the mismanagement.
Her relationship with others at DSU deteriorated to the point that the president of Delaware State University wouldn’t speak with her near the end of her employment there, she said.
Burd later sent McGuiness a photo of an external hard drive with documents from her investigation at Delaware State University and arranged a plan to return to work at the Auditor’s Office.
She said McGuiness told her P-card purchases would be a priority in the office and she would be permitted to investigate those.
But soon after she returned to the office, Burd launched a third personal investigation, this time into McGuiness.
It was Burd who found that McGuiness was surveilling employee emails, she told the jury. While performing a task on McGuiness’ computer, Burd looked at McGuiness’ email account and saw that she had ‘delegate access’ to other employees’ emails.
She told the employees whose names she saw and they were unaware that McGuiness had access to their emails, she said.
In 2019, Burd resigned from the Auditor’s Office because she “no longer felt comfortable with how things were going.”
Wood said Burd has a track record of launching unauthorized personal investigations, coming to false conclusions, and ultimately resigning from jobs.
He added that Burd has a grudge against McGuiness and her testimony can’t be trusted.
While speaking with investigators, Burd called McGuiness “bipolar” and “an asshole.”
Trial of Auditor of Accounts Kathleen McGuiness
McGuiness is charged with two felonies and multiple misdemeanors alleging conflict of interest, felony theft, non-compliance with procurement law, official misconduct and felony witness intimidation.
She’s accused of arranging public payments to a campaign consultant to avoid regulator scrutiny, laying off workers in her office before hiring her daughter whose salary was deposited into a jointly-owned bank account, and attempting to intimidate employees who might help investigators looking into her conduct.
If found guilty, McGuiness faces between zero and 13 years in prison.
Tuesday is the fourth day of the trial. Prosecutors are still calling their witnesses. It’s not clear how many witnesses the state has to call. Once the prosecution rests its case, McGuiness’ defense team will have the opportunity to call witnesses.
The trial marks the first time in Delaware history that a statewide-elected official has stood trial while in office.
McGuiness Trial Coverage
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