When Delaware quietly settled a federal lawsuit last month against a prison counselor who was held hostage and raped, it had no plans to publicly announce the $1.65 million agreement. Details emerged only after the Delaware State News pressed state officials, four weeks after the settlement occurred. “That’s the Delaware way, to keep the public in the dark,” said Wilmington attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, who has represented several clients in suits against state agencies. “In Delaware, only by pulling teeth does the media learn about some settlements.”
The issue alarms government watchdog group Common Cause of Delaware because the cases are settled using taxpayer dollars. But state officials contend that the monetary arrangement already is available to the public–when someone asks for the information. The state on Nov. 1 settled a suit with a prison counselor who was raped in July 2004, agreeing to pay $1.65 million. But it was not revealed until Nov. 30 when a State News reporter asked about the case.