The trial of state Sen. Darius Brown starts Wednesday in a case that has revealed inconsistencies in how lawmakers are treated and could end the Wilmington Democrat's legislative career.
In May, Delaware State Police charged Brown with offensive touching and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, after police said the senator punched an acquaintance and threw a glass of water at Taverna Rustic Italian Restaurant in Talleyville.
His jury trial was originally set for Dec. 1 before being postponed to Jan. 5 at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington.
It is unclear how long the trial will last, but trials for relatively simple charges in the Court of Common Pleas frequently finish within a day.
If found guilty, Brown would not automatically lose his position as a senator.
However, Gov. John Carney could potentially exercise a constitutional power to remove him. The governor can remove any official who is "convicted of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime," though Carney would not be required to do so.
In the General Assembly, Brown has faced multiple punishments for the arrest and a separate incident in November where he allegedly got into a heated verbal altercation with Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, a New Castle Democrat, during a criminal justice bill-signing press event with Carney. It's unclear what the altercation was about.
The Senate plans to conduct its first ethics inquiry in 35 years into Brown's behavior. Criminal allegations don't automatically spur ethics investigations. It's unclear if there are other allegations within the Statehouse that have not been publicized. Senate leaders say they won't consider tangible action against Brown until his case is adjudicated.
Brown was also removed from the high-profile Bond and Judiciary committees, the latter of which he used to chair.
Brown, a former Wilmington city councilman, has carved out a reputation for himself as a champion of criminal justice reform.
Brown, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, has received a noticeably different punishment from General Assembly leadership than other lawmakers who have been arrested or accused of ethical misconduct.
House leadership did not punish Rep. Andria Bennett, a Dover Democrat, after she was arrested following a reported domestic dispute in December 2020. Instead, last year she was given the chairmanship of a low-profile gaming committee. The charges were later dropped.
Senate leadership also did not punish Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican who was arrested in 2017 for a felony gun charge when a Transportation Security Administration agent found a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag at a Maryland airport. Pettyjohn was promoted last year to minority whip.
House leadership has not publicly addressed the discrepancy, though critics point to how Brown, unlike his colleagues who have faced similar allegations, is Black.
Shortly after his arrest, Delaware State Police issued a press release about Brown's arrest with a picture of his mugshot, which they did not do for Bennett's arrest in December.
Senate leaders, who assumed the positions in 2021, have defended themselves in their decision to punish Brown, pointing to how they did not have their leadership roles before last year. The 2020 election unseated the chamber's former top lawmaker, David McBride.
Brown did recently earn a new post. In September, the Wilmington HOPE Commission named Brown its executive director. When defending the organization's decision in light of the charges, board chair Michelle Taylor cited the presumption of innocence and said the organization, which aims to lower recidivism, is built on the idea of offering second chances.
The commission plans to keep Brown as its executive director during the criminal trial and ethics inquiry, according to Taylor.
"The outcome of any trial is a matter for the court to decide," Taylor wrote in a December email. "We are not going to guess at that outcome, nor speculate about what the commission might or might not do based on that decision."
FIRST SENATE ETHICS INQUIRY IN 35 YEARS: Sen. Darius Brown faces the first Senate ethics investigation in 35 years. What to expect
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: After misdemeanor arrest, Darius Brown's jury trial starts Wednesday