County attorney claims wrongdoing in rezoning spat

Randall Chase, Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- An attorney representing New Castle County officials in a high-profile land-use lawsuit told a Chancery Court judge Monday that he has uncovered evidence of possible wrongdoing by county officials under the previous administration.

Attorney Sidney Liebesman, who is representing New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon's administration, said he learned over the weekend that documents have been withheld from plaintiffs suing the county over the proposed Barley Mill Plaza redevelopment project in suburban Wilmington.

Liebesman also alleged possible wrongdoing by county officials in the rezoning process underlying the proposed project during the administration of former county executive Paul Clark.

Liebesman did not provide details about the alleged withholding of documents or possible wrongdoing in the rezoning process. But he told Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III that he had contacted the attorney general's office, and he asked the judge to consider appointing a special court master to look into the alleged withholding of documents from attorneys for Save Our County.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for state Department of Justice, said the attorney general's was reviewing a letter received Monday from an attorney representing the county. He declined further comment.

Glasscock, meanwhile, put the lawsuit on hold for a second time while he considered the issues raised Monday.

"At some point, I've got to know what we're talking about here," the judge said.

Glasscock did dismiss the county land use department and its general manager, David Culver, as defendants in the lawsuit, saying any injunctive relief he might order against the executive branch would apply to them anyway.

In addition to the withholding of documents and possible rezoning improprieties, Liebesman said he also had learned more details about the shredding and destruction of documents by officials during the Clark administration. He said he didn't know whether any documents pertaining to the lawsuit had been shredded.

"I'm told there was bleaching involved," Liebesman told Glasscock in a closed-door meeting that Liebesman requested with the judge and other attorneys before a hearing in the case.

The Associated Press objected to the closed-door meeting, which lasted less than 10 minutes. After it was over, Glasscock ordered a court reporter to read the entire transcript of the private meeting in open court, saying there was extreme public interest in the case and that the issues discussed should be a matter of public record.

"It seems like every time we have a hearing in this matter I hear something new and the ground seems to shift a little bit," Glasscock told attorneys.

Last month, Glasscock postponed a trial in the case after attorneys for county, which previously had sided as a co-defendant with the developers, abruptly reversed course. The judge said he had grave concerns about county attorneys first defending the Barley Mill project but telling the court just before trial that they were now siding with opponents. Gordon's office and the county council both subsequently hired outside lawyers to represent them in the dispute.

County attorneys sided with the developer when Clark was in office, but Gordon, who was elected county executive in November, opposes the project.

Save Our County wants the development project put on hold, arguing that a traffic study should have been done before county council approved the rezoning.