Posted: Jan. 9, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. John C. Atkins got a courtesy not afforded to every standard issue domestic-violence offender -- a private session with the attorney general to ensure he had been treated fairly and to sound out what would be expected of him on probation.

Atkins, a Millsboro Republican, already had been through the Family Court and placed in the First Offender Domestic Violence Diversion Program -- meaning that his record would be cleansed of an offensive touching charge if he stayed out of trouble for a year -- three days earlier on Dec. 4.

The meeting followed on Dec. 7 with Carl C. Danberg in the Attorney General's Office in Dover, as Atkins was moving from the criminal justice system to the probation system, and what a coincidence, Danberg was, too.

Danberg, a Democrat, was on his way from being attorney general atop the criminal justice system to being nominated as the corrections commissioner atop the probation system.

At the time of the meeting, the retirement of Corrections Commissioner Stanley W. Taylor Jr. had been announced, and Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was widely expected to choose Danberg as the replacement -- as she did on Jan. 3. It was the second time Minner turned to Danberg in a little more than a year, after tapping him for attorney general when Republican M. Jane Brady departed for a judgeship.

Danberg said he was the one asking for the session with Atkins. He said he wanted feedback to ascertain that Atkins had been treated neither too harshly nor too leniently but "like any other citizen."

Danberg noted that he has met with other defendants after they had their day in court. Any one of them could have been a legislator who chaired the House Corrections Committee in his last term and whose wife Heather worked for the Corrections Department.

Atkins did his part, too, to show how much he wanted to be treated "like any other citizen." He brought along John R. Matlusky, the Republican national committeeman who is also the House Republicans' chief aide, and John F. Brady, the Republican Sussex County recorder of deeds who also doubles as a House attorney and was retained privately as Atkins' lawyer.

It was similar to Atkins' determination to be treated "like any other citizen" in the hours before he was arrested by Millsboro police for fighting with his wife. During a traffic stop in Ocean City, Md., he displayed his legislative identification card and suggested he could have a Delaware state trooper pick him up if he had too much to drink at a pre-Halloween party at a nightclub. He left without a speeding ticket or a drunken-driving charge.

Atkins would not talk about the meeting, but Danberg, Matlusky and Brady, who was late showing up for it, did. They all acknowledged that Atkins' probation was discussed, because he did not want his compliance with counseling sessions to take him away from his legislative responsibilities. Danberg said he was not asked to do anything improper, and anyway, he had limited input.

"It wasn't about looking for any shortcuts or special privileges," Matlusky said.

Up until now, Atkins has been a problem for the House of Representatives, but now it could spill over to the Senate, where Cabinet nominees like Danberg must be confirmed.

"Anything is eligible to be asked of a nominee," said Sen. Anthony J. DeLuca, the Democratic majority leader.

Any questions seem more likely to come from the Senate's minority Republicans than the majority Democrats, who control the chamber 13-8 -- enough to confirm the governor's nominees with votes to spare.

Sen. Charles L. Copeland, the Republican minority leader, said, "I had a lot of questions for General Danberg because he was there [in the Corrections Department] while a lot of problems in the prison were fomenting. This certainly adds another question."

Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Democratic president pro tem, said, "Personally I think it's a House issue and not a Senate issue. Carl, being nominated as corrections commissioner, he's going to be in another capacity. I'm not sure that's an issue with us."

Atkins made his return Tuesday to Dover for the first day of the new legislative session. He stood in the middle of the 41-member House, jammed with family, friends and political officials, to take his new oath along with everybody else. Heather Atkins was with him.

Committee assignments were not announced, so there was no word on whether Atkins would lose the chair of the Corrections Committee, with its jurisdiction involving the next commissioner, probation and Heather Atkins' job.

If he does, it would be one time that Atkins got a special treatment that did not go his way.