Judge won't dismiss claims against ex-Mingo judge Thornsbury

By John O'Brien | Dec 26, 2013

CHARLESTON – A federal judge won’t dismiss a civil rights lawsuit against former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury for a technical reason.

Thornsbury had argued that the civil lawsuit filed against him in September by Robert Woodruff was not properly served on his residence. On Dec. 18, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr., of the Southern District of West Virginia, ruled against that argument.

Thornsbury had moved out of his primary residence days before the lawsuit filed by Woodruff was delivered there. Thornsbury’s wife Kim accepted service.

“First, Mr. Cisco served process on Mrs. Thornsbury, a person of suitable age and discretion who resided in the marital home,” Copenhaver wrote.

“Second, Mr. Thornsbury lived at the residence until two or three days prior to Mr. Cisco’s visit. Third, Mr. Thornsbury has received actual notice of this action inasmuch as he sought dismissal.

“Fourth, the quashing of service under these circumstances would only result in delay and unnecessary expense.”

Thornsbury is awaiting sentencing following pleading guilty to depriving another man of his civil rights. With regard to Woodruff, he is accused of attempting to violate his civil rights in order to woo his wife, who was Thornsbury’s secretary.

Woodruff was referred to as R.W. in an indictment filed against Thornsbury by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. On Oct. 2, Thornsbury pleaded guilty to charges in an information alleging a second scheme and resigned. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Woodruff’s complaint says his wife was subjected to sexual harassment.

Goodwin alleged Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs under the truck of a man known as Woodruff. Goodwin alleged this happened after the secretary broke off a romantic relationship with Thornsbury, though Woodruff’s complaint says his wife resisted the advances.

However, the co-conspirator backed out of the plan at the last minute, Goodwin alleges.

Thornsbury then told a state trooper to file a criminal complaint against Woodruff, the indictment says. The indictment alleged Woodruff was stealing scrap metal from his employer, even though Woodruff had permission to salvage the metal.

A criminal complaint was filed against Woodruff in December 2008.

Thornsbury presided over the grand jury in January 2009 and picked Jarrod Fletcher, the county’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with whom he co-owned real estate and a wine shop, as jury foreperson.

Goodwin alleges Thornsbury was able to co-opt the grand jury’s authority and used it to victimize Woodruff. He created a set of subpoenas that ordered Woodruff’s employer and other local companies to surrender private documents, Goodwin says.

One company resisted and discovered the business ties between Thornsbury and Fletcher, the indictment says. Thornsbury eventually abandoned his plan to use the grand jury against Woodruff, it says.

In 2012, Woodruff was charged with assault and battery. He had been involved in an altercation with two other men, one of whom drew a gun. The charges against the two men were dismissed, and Thornsbury told the county prosecutor to ensure Woodruff received six months’ home confinement, the indictment says.

After Woodruff refused a plea deal, the prosecutor dismissed the case on the eve of trial.

The ruling backed up an earlier one by Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Tod Kaufman in a related case.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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