Posted: Oct. 12, 2010
By Celia Cohen
Chip Flowers wanted to be the first to let the press know. Women in his past had accused him of physical abuse.
It was an unorthodox move from Flowers, the Democrat running for treasurer. Most candidates try to hide their political skeletons by burying them, but Flowers decided to hide his in plain sight, as if openness alone could show there was nothing there.
It was not a cover up. It was an un-cover up.
To some extent, Flowers did not have much of a choice. One of the accusations arose out of a dinner date at the Columbus Inn in Wilmington on a Monday evening before Thanksgiving in November 2006, when the bar was frequented by a political crowd.
What are the chances of keeping something a secret when Bob Byrd, one of the premier lobbyists in the state, and John Taylor, the former editorial page editor of The News Journal, were not only present that evening but became witnesses at a trial? (They saw nothing, by the way.)
So Flowers invited members of the press to interview him about what he called "Delaware's poorly kept secret" and what turned out to be essentially a rambling account of a rocky love life.
"I want to clear the record. I have nothing to hide," Flowers said.
Flowers, 35, is a lawyer who lives in Middletown. He is running for treasurer against Colin Bonini, a Republican state senator. He got onto the ballot by winning a primary last month against Velda Jones-Potter, the Democratic incumbent appointed by Gov. Jack Markell to replace himself.
Flowers' romantic relationships were complicated. They involved not only him and women, but his nascent political ambitions, too.
He fended off a protection-from-abuse order sought by one woman in 2004 and a warrant sworn out for his arrest in 2006 by another woman who said he hit her and smashed her cell phone.
The Family Court knocked out the protection-from-abuse order for insufficient proof, and a three-day trial in the Court of Common Pleas took care of the other with an acquittal on misdemeanor charges of assault and criminal mischief.
Barbara Vilches-Cruz wanted the protection-from-abuse order. Her account to Family Court was told under oath, as was Flowers' denial of it. She could not be located for an interview.
In a sworn statement, Vilches-Cruz described a scene as they argued and she decided to leave.
"I pushed past him and ran down the stairs. Chipman Flowers grabbed my legs and attempted to pull me back up the stairs. I held onto the railing and yelled for help. Chipman climbed on top of me and began punching my face and beating my head, telling me that I'd better be quiet because he was not going to allow me to ruin his political career," she said in the Family Court document.
"Chipman Flowers pinned me down, slammed my head into the stairs, bit me repeatedly on my breasts, legs and arms. Chipman also scratched me up and down my body," Vilches-Cruz continued in the sworn statement.
"I truly feared he would kill me because of how hard he was hitting me. He made me promise not to leave the house if he got off of me. I eventually did," the sworn statement also said.
Vilches-Cruz said in her statement the confrontation occurred in July 2003. She did not turn to the court for help until May 2004, the date of her petition for the protection-from-abuse order. Flowers told the court she did it because she was trying to "extort" money from him.
In his own sworn statement, Flowers protested against the proceeding because "no abuse occurred at any time" and it was "jeopardizing my legal and political career." The petition for the protection-from-abuse order was dismissed.
Two and a half years later, there was another round of he-said-she-said in a Common Pleas trial after Flowers' dinner date went bad with Janice Johnson, a fellow lawyer who later left the state.
This one has been rumbling around Delaware political circles for some time, because of whom it enveloped, and not just Byrd and Taylor.
For defense attorneys at the trial, Flowers brought in two mainstays of the Delaware bar -- Kathleen Jennings, a former chief deputy attorney general, and Charles Slanina, a former chief disciplinary counsel under the state Supreme Court.
About the only element that Flowers and Johnson agreed on was that they had a lovers' quarrel while they were in the bar in the vicinity of a political crowd at the Columbus Inn.
When Johnson testified, she said that Flowers gripped her knees and dug in his fingernails. She took out her cell phone to call someone, but he grabbed it and pocketed it. She left but got hung up at the coat check, and they wound up leaving together.
She testified he banged the cell phone against her car, then threw it on the ground and stomped on it. She made a move to get into her car to drive away, but he seized the door handle. He hit her and left a cut above her left eye. She got the car door closed and drove away, not going directly home because she was afraid he would follow.
The next day she went to the Wilmington police.
When Flowers testified, he said that Johnson did indeed pull out her cell phone, only to thrust it aggressively at his face. He thought it was going to strike him, so he recoiled, and she dropped it. When the cell phone fell, the back and the battery came off, and he picked up all the parts.
Flowers testified she left the restaurant. He followed a short time later and was surprised to find her still in the parking lot. He tried to give her the cell phone, but she stormed off. He went back inside to join the crowd at the bar, and as he passed a cement trash can outside the restaurant, he tossed the cell phone in his irritation.
No one else seemed able to corroborate. Neither Byrd nor Taylor noticed anything amiss in the bar. Johnson testified there was no one in the parking lot. Flowers testified there were parking lot attendants he could not otherwise identify.
It probably did not help Johnson's credibility that she tried several times to have the charges dropped and continued on occasion to have sex with Flowers. The jury acquitted him.
Even so, Johnson remains unwavering. In an e-mail Monday, she wrote, "I stand behind all the statements I made in the police report and during the trial."
Jennings, however, said Flowers was clearly vindicated. "He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and the jury agreed. It doesn't get better than that, outright acquittal."
In a tempestuous love life already bared to the court system and the press, the voters might want to take it from here.