State Rep. John Atkins (R-Millsboro) resigned from his Delaware House of Representatives 41st District seat effective immediately on Tuesday, March 27, 2007.
Rep. Atkins announced the action today, the same day he had been set to face sanctions in the State House of Representatives for his actions connected to an Ocean City traffic stop and a domestic violence incident late last year.
In his resignation letter to Speaker of the House Terry Spence (R-Stratford), Rep. Atkins said: "It has been my honor and privilege to represent the … 41st Representative District. … The people of my district have been an inspiration to me and will continue to be in the months and years ahead."
Rep. Atkins' departure will require a special election to fill his vacant House seat. Under state law (Title 15, Chapter 71), the Speaker of the House must issue a Writ of Election within 30 days of a declared vacancy in the House of Representatives. The writ is delivered to the Department of Elections in the county where the vacancy exists. The special election must be held 10 to 11 days after the department receives the writ, not including the day the document arrives.
Speaker Spence says he has not decided when the special election will be held, but that it would likely be scheduled for late April or early May. The winner will fill the remainder of Rep. Atkins' two-year term that will expire in November 2008.
The proposed sanctions facing Rep. Atkins were in response to a series of incidents that occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 29th. Rep. Atkins and his wife Heather were stopped by Ocean City (MD) Police on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) shortly after leaving a nearby nightclub.
Despite a breath test that seemed to show a high blood alcohol content, the officers noted that Rep. Atkins was responsive, coherent and speaking clearly. The police decided not to cite him for DUI, but instructed him to refrain from driving and to secure a ride home.
A House Ethics Committee investigation revealed that Rep. Atkins did get a ride from a friend, but resumed driving after crossing the state line into Delaware.
Later that morning, Rep. Atkins was arrested at his Millsboro home on a charge of "offensive touching" following a physical altercation with his wife.
The committee's investigation also found that Rep. Atkins used his legislative identification card in an attempt to gain leniency from the Ocean City police officers and that he made several attempts to speak with the Millsboro Police Chief in an unsuccessful attempt avoid a domestic violence charge from being brought against him.
The committee concluded Rep. Atkins had violated the House of Representatives' rules of conduct and that his actions had brought the institution "into disrepute."
In a letter to the committee, Rep. Atkins accepted the findings and admitted his wrong-doing:
As a result, the five-member Ethics Committee - which consists of the chamber's Republican and Democratic leadership - filed House Resolution 13. The measure contained five specific sanctions:
1. Rep. Atkins would have had to surrender his legislative identification card and license plate.
2. Rep. Atkins would have been ineligible to chair any House committees during the 144th General Assembly.
3. Rep. Atkins would have paid a fine in the form of a of a $550 contribution to Delaware Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
4. Rep. Atkins would have been mandated to successfully complete the counseling ordered by Family Court as part of his domestic violence plea agreement.
5. Rep. Atkins would have also been required to undergo an alcohol evaluation and would have been required to comply with any recommendations based on that evaluation, including treatment or counseling.
With the resignation, HR 13 will be stricken and no additional action against Rep. Atkins is contemplated.
Rep. Atkins departs having served more than two terms in the State House. He was known for his dedication to his 41st Representative District that includes the municipalities of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford.
Rep. Atkins was also a leading champion of Delaware's correctional officers and is credited for helping to improve their pay and working conditions in the state’s prisons. Atkins was often at the center of controversy, having sponsored legislation that sought to put inmates to work and to restore corporal punishment to the state's public schools.
The resignation leaves the 41-member House with two vacancies. Former State Rep. Wayne Smith resigned from his 7th Representative District earlier this month to take a position as the president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association (DHA). A special election to choose Smith’s successor will be held Saturday, April 14th.