Potential Delaware Judge’s Criminal Record Raises Questions for State Senate

Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s recent judicial nomination triggered an avalanche of employment-law issues.  The man she’d nominated as a Delaware Family Court Commissioner was convicted of selling cocaine to an undercover officer when he was 17 years old. Since then, he’d led an honorable life, going to college, then law school, and, most recently, holding the position of deputy counsel to the Governor. But the state legislators raised questions about whether his criminal record prevented him from sitting on the bench.

The Governor asked the Delaware Supreme Court to issue an opinion answering this question.  The current law states that persons cannot hold state office if convicted of an “infamous crime.”  The term has never been defined.

The state Supreme Court held that the offense, which was committed as a juvenile, should be treated as a “civil delinquency, not [a] crime at all,” and certainly not as an “infamous crime.”

The juvenile conviction was pardoned in 1999 shortly before he was admitted to practice law in Delaware and New Jersey.  Since then, he has worked as a deputy attorney general and a defender prior to working as legal counsel for the Governor.   His community contributions include being a member of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, and serving in positions on the Delaware Law Related Education Center and the Delaware State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

This story serves as an excellent example of the seriousness with which employers should consider an applicant’s criminal history.  Employers who do conduct background checks that include criminal records should not presume that a conviction is an automatic bar to employment.  In accordance with EEOC Guidelines, the candidate should be given a full and fair opportunity to explain the conditions of the crime and conviction, as well as how he or she has contributed to the community and society at large as factors for employment.

See full coverage of this story by Esteban Parra at the Wilmington News Journal’s website.

Another important source of information is the EEOC’s Fact Sheet on Employment Tests and Screening, which addresses Criminal Background Checks.