Mingo magistrate says she was slandered

By Chris Dickerson and Kelly Holleran | Aug 1, 2014

CHARLESTON -- A Mingo County magistrate judge says she was slandered because of her stance against the corruption she claims was running rampant in the Mingo County Courthouse.

Deloris “Dee” Sidebottom filed a lawsuit July 14 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Michael Thornsbury, Steven D. Canterbury, Trooper Brandon Moore, Colonel Jay Smithers, Michael Sparks and the members of the Mingo County Commission.

In her complaint, Sidebottom alleges she was prohibited from hearing any criminal matters involving the Mingo County prosecuting attorney’s office after Williamson resident Sparks filed a motion to disqualify her, saying she was biased against the office. Because criminal cases constitute the vast majority of Sidebottom’s caseload, she was essentially stripped of her duties, according to the complaint.

Sidebottom denied all of the allegations against her, but Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury removed her response to Sparks’s motion, the suit states. Eventually, Sparks’s motion was dismissed and found to be meritless, but not before the defendants informed the local media of the motion, the complaint says.

Not only did Sidebottom face false allegations, she claims she was also subjected to sexual harassment by Thornsbury. For instance, he asked Sidebottom to go out to lunch with him on Tuesdays and Thursdays and to a local coffee shop on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, according to the complaint. He also asked her to go to New York and Chicago with him for romantic getaway, the suit states.

In addition to Thornsbury and Sparks, Sidebottom names Moore as a defendant, saying he brought an ethics complaint against Sidebottom for a plea deal she refused to accept. The complaint was eventually dismissed, the complaint says.

In June, Thornsbury was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison. After pleading guilty to federal conspiracy charges, he also was fined $6,000. This week, he reported to the minimum-security Federal Prison Camp Pensacola in Florida.

Federal officials claim Thornsbury and other Mingo County officials — including Sparks and former Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden — conspired to keep a local businessman from talking to the FBI about prescription pain medication and illegal campaign contributions received by Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. Crum was shot and killed in a Williamson parking lot last year.

According to documents, Crum allegedly owed money to signmaker George White for materials he used in his 2012 election campaign. Officials said Crum then sent an informant to buy drugs from White. Crum then had White arrested.

White’s attorney apparently told him to speak to the FBI about providing pills to Crum when he was a Mingo County magistrate, but officials say Thornsbury and the others coerced White to hire another attorney. White was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Thornsbury was Mingo County’s only circuit judge for 17 years. In May, he also was sued by a former Mingo County deputy circuit clerk who claims Thornsbury slandered her and had her fired.

Candice Harper, who is Thornsbury’s niece, filed her lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against Thornsbury, Mingo County Director of 911 and Mingo County Director of Homeland Security Jarrod Fletcher, state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury and the Mingo County Commission.

Harper says that in the spring of 2009, she learned Thornsbury was having an affair with a woman in the Mingo County Probation Office. That woman later became his secretary, Harper claims. She also says Thornsbury had “various affairs with women in the community.”

When Thornsbury learned Harper knew of the affair, he “had great fear that plaintiff would tell Thornsbury’s wife about the affair.” That’s when Harper’s relationship with Thornsbury “soured dramatically,” according to the complaint.

She says Thornsbury and Crum conspired to force her out of her job.

Thornsbury has been named in other civil litigation. In federal court, two lawsuits allege Thornsbury repeatedly tried to frame Robert Woodruff in an effort to get his wife Kimberly Woodruff to resume a romantic relationship with him. The state Supreme Court’s insurance provider — National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh — filed documents last month saying it didn’t have to cover those claims because Thornsbury wasn’t acting in the capacity as a judge.

In her complaint, Sidebottom alleges sexual harassment, hostile work environment, slander and negligent inflection of emotional distress against the defendants. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, plus other relief the court deems just.

She is being represented by attorneys Michael O. Callaghan and Joshua R. Martin of Neely and Callaghan in Charleston and Della-Cline Gentile of Cline Law Office in Williamson. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Charles E. King.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 14-C-1253

More News

The Record Network