- Associated Press - Thursday, April 15, 2021

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A Delaware judge has issued a ruling that temporarily prevents a former small-town police chief who was convicted of official misconduct from taking office as a town commissioner.

Thursday’s ruling by Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden came barely one hour before former Newport police chief Michael Capriglione was to be sworn in as a Newport town commissioner.

Jurden had held a brief online hearing earlier in the day in response to a court filing by Attorney General Kathleen Jennings seeking to nullify last week’s election of Capriglione. He was elected on April 5 to a two-year term by receiving 32 votes in a town with roughly 1,000 residents.

Jennings argued that Capriglione is ineligible to hold public office because of his prior conviction, which she contends qualifies as an “infamous crime” under the Delaware constitution.

“Official misconduct, despite being a misdemeanor, is the crime that ought to prevent one from holding public office,” the Department of Justice said in its court filing. “To be found guilty of official misconduct is to abuse the power the public places in its officials.”″

Capriglione’s attorney, Stephanie Ballard, told Jurden that a local elections board had conducted a review after Capriglione filed for office and concluded that he was not ineligible to hold office because he was not convicted of a felony.

“Because this action is properly within the court’s jurisdiction, because the action implicates important questions of the public trust, and because neither Capriglione nor Newport would be unduly prejudiced by maintaining the status quo, the court finds a brief stay appropriate,” Jurden wrote.

Jurden, who issued a 21-day stay while she decides the issue, noted that an attorney representing the town explained at Thursday’s hearing that even if Capriglione was not sworn in Thursday night, Newport would have enough commissioners to constitute a quorum.

The commissioners may therefore continue to do business while the court resolves this matter,” the judge wrote, adding that Capriglione had cited no authority to suggest that he must be sworn in Thursday night.

“On the other side of the ledger, the state has raised important questions about whether the public trust would be harmed should Capriglione hold an ‘office of trust, honor or profit under this State,’” Jurden wrote.

Capriglione was sentenced to probation and ordered to surrender his police certification in 2019 after crashing his car into another vehicle in the police department parking lot and trying to cover it up.

Authorities said he lied to other officers about how the other car was damaged and ordered the destruction of video footage that captured the 2018 incident. The footage was recovered, however, by state police computer technicians.

Capriglione was charged with inattentive driving, failing to report the incident, official misconduct and tampering with physical evidence, a felony. He pleaded guilty to careless driving and official misconduct.

“That such a criminal act was committed by a town’s chief law enforcement officer only amplifies the degree to which Capriglione flunks our state’s character test for public officeholders,” Jennnings said in her court filing.

While Jurden decides whether Capriglione is eligible to hold public office, another judge is presiding over a lawsuit in which Capriglione is suing the town for more than $170,000 that he claims he is owed in non-salary benefits in the form of vacation accruals, sick leave and uncompensated overtime.

Town attorneys, who have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, noted in a letter to the court that Capriglione’s election “places the town in an undesirable position as Mr. Capriglione is now both the plaintiff and a defendant in this action.”

Attorneys for Capriglione, meanwhile, filed a motion to put the lawsuit on hold while the parties to develop measures to shield him from any litigation-related information or communications as a commissioner.

“To allow the suit to go forward without these measures in place would unfairly cast a pallor (sic) of suspicion on plaintiff that would be prejudicial to his case, and future dealings with the council and his constitutes (sic),” Capriglione’s lawyers wrote.

Attorneys for the town responded that a stay is not warranted, noting that Capriglione could simply leave the room if the council were to discuss the lawsuit.

“If plaintiff is sincere in his desire to be awarded relief through these proceedings, wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and has no intentions of affecting the outcome through his position as a member of town council, he should seek a swift ruling on the motion to dismiss, as it stands between him and prompt justice,” town attorneys wrote.

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