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Hearing Postponed For Trooper Suing Cmdr. of Del. State Police

By Randall Chase, The Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) - State officials agreed Friday to postpone a trial board hearing for a female trooper who filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the head of the Delaware State Police.

Capt. Barbara Conley, who is charged with sexual harassment and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, was scheduled to face a trial board hearing Monday. She denies any wrongdoing.

Deputy attorney general Michael Tupman informed Conley's lawyer, Thomas Neuberger, on Friday that the state had agreed to Neuberger's request for a continuance, and that the hearing would be rescheduled for the earliest possible date in January.

Neuberger asked for the continuance after state officials unexpectedly replaced the three Delaware State Police officers initially chosen for the trial board with three law enforcement officers from outside the department.

Neuberger claimed the move was an attempt to "stack the deck" against Conley, 43, who filed a lawsuit in October accusing police superintendent Col. Aaron Chaffinch of refusing to put women in command positions and engaging in sexually offensive behavior at work.

Also named as defendants in Conley's lawsuit are deputy police superintendent Lt. Col. Thomas MacLeish, and Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security David Mitchell, whom Neuberger has accused of trying to create a "kangaroo court" for Conley's trial board.

On Thursday, Neuberger filed a motion seeking recusal from the trial board of Wilmington police Capt. Nancy Dietz and New Castle County police Maj. Stuart Snyder, who were appointed by the state Criminal Justice Council to hear the case with Dover police Capt. Ray Taraila.

Neuberger also requested the reappointment of the original trial board members, state police captains Jeffrey Evans and Paul Smentkowski and Maj. Joseph Papili.

"I think this gives them some breathing space to think about it," Neuberger said Friday after state officials agreed to the continuance.

Tupman did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

In the motion filed Thursday, Neuberger noted that Dietz's husband, Marlin, also a captain on the Wilmington police force, was a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by Neuberger four years ago on behalf of a Wilmington police corporal.

"Her impartiality can reasonably be questioned in this proceedings (sic) and the opportunity to take revenge on legal counsel for respondent cannot be ignored," Neuberger wrote.

Neuberger also questioned Snyder's impartiality, noting that Snyder was promoted to his current position by New Castle County police commander Col. David McAllister, who is a defendant in two federal civil rights lawsuits filed this year by Neuberger, who also has called for the firing of McAllister and other officers, including Snyder.

"The board decided to postpone the hearing in order to adequately review the alleged conflicts of interest," said Department of Justice spokeswoman Lori Sitler.

Sitler said Dietz and Snyder will decide, along with Taraila, whether Dietz and Snyder have a conflict of interest.

"We will provide the legal advice, but it is their call," she said.

The internal charges against Conley surfaced publicly shortly after she filed her lawsuit against Chaffinch, who was placed on administrative leave by Mitchell pending an internal investigation.

Conley alleges that Chaffinch has engaged in such behavior as reciting sexually explicit limericks, referring to a secretary's breasts in a derogatory manner, suggesting a desire to have sex with female employees, and publicly referring to his own genitals with a nickname.

After Conley refused to be interviewed by internal affairs investigators, fearing they might try to use her statements against her in the lawsuit against Chaffinch, she was suspended for failing to obey an order. The suspension was lifted after attorneys agreed to ground rules for the internal affairs interview, which was conducted this week.

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