Posted: Dec. 5, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

An hour after lawyers put together a plea agreement, state Rep. John C. Atkins' domestic violence case whisked through the Family Court in no more than 10 minutes Monday in an arrangement that will clear his record of an offensive touching charge if he stays out of trouble for a year.

In exchange for a provisional guilty plea, Atkins was put on probation and placed in a first offenders' program requiring him to get up to 26 weeks of counseling and barring him from having firearms or other weapons.

The brevity of the proceedings kept the fuss to a minimum and leaves only a bare outline revealed of what did happen between Atkins, a three-term Millsboro Republican, and his wife Heather during an eventful night with two police encounters from the evening of Saturday, Oct. 28, into the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct 29.

John Atkins also is creating an uncomfortable predicament for the House Republican majority when the next legislative session begins next month.

The leadership under Speaker Terry R. Spence has to decide whether the only legislator known to be on probation should continue to chair the Corrections Committee, which has jurisdiction over the department that will supervise his probation and also happens to employ his wife.

For now, it seems too awkward to discuss. "Speaker Spence has not announced the committee lineup as of yet. I'm not sure the requests [for committee assignments] have been made by the representative. We'll have to see what his requests are," said Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith, a Brandywine Hundred Republican.

Atkins' drive-thru appearance in a Sussex County courtroom was attended only by Family Court Commissioner Andrew K. Southmayd, prosecutor Melanie C. Withers, Atkins, and John F. Brady, the House attorney whom Atkins retained privately to defend him, according to Brady. Heather Atkins was not present.

State Prosecutor Steven P. Wood said the rapidity was typical for the offense and not meant to shield Atkins. "The case was handled as any such case would be handled," he said.

Brady said Atkins wanted to limit the proceedings for the good of his family. "Mr. Atkins chose not to involve his family in a trial and accepted responsibility for his actions that evening. He made this decision after consulting with his family and other interested community members," he said.

Atkins did not want to say much beyond referring questions to Brady. "It went OK. Heather and I are doing fine," he said.

Atkins, a 36-year-old trash collector, found himself in court because of an argument he acknowledges he had with his 33-year-old wife and grabbed her arm. A Millsboro police officer was sent to their house to respond to a hang-up call Atkins said he made and then changed his mind.

Atkins has declined to talk about an incident earlier that night when he was stopped in Maryland by Ocean City police because he appeared to be drinking and driving, although they let him go without having any evidence he was intoxicated over the legal limit.

Atkins has not explained why he told a talk show on WGMD Radio News that alcohol was not involved in his arrest. Futhermore, an initial incident report released Tuesday by the Millsboro police to Delaware Grapevine shows the arresting officer checked a notation that alcohol was involved.

The Millsboro officer also checked three out of 21 possible "risk assessments," including: "Increase in frequency or severity of violence"; "Suspect is jealous or attempts to control partner"; and "Suspect has accused the victim of cheating."

After consulting with Millsboro officials, the police are not making public a more comprehensive report, which includes an account of the Ocean City stop, Chief John K. Murphy II said.

Atkins himself has no intention of releasing the report. "Nope," he said.