CHARLESTON – The state retirement board is petitioning to remove the retirement benefits of a former Mingo County judge who was convicted of a felony.
The West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board filed a petition in Kanawha Circuit Court for the termination of benefits of Michael Thornsbury, a member of the West Virginia Public Employees Retirement System and the West Virginia Judges' Retirement System. Drema Thornsbury also is named as a defendant.
According to the complaint, on Sept. 19, 2013, an information was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia alleging that Michael Thornsbury had conspired with other local public officials in March 2013 to prevent an informant from communicating further with the FBI regarding possible illegal activity of the sheriff by threatening the constitutional rights of an unnamed defendant, including that man's right to counsel of his choosing.
The complaint states Thornsbury, who was a Mingo Circuit Court judge at the time, was informed of the scheme by other public officials, and agreed to impose a lighter sentence on the defendant, who was facing a drug case, if he agreed to replace his counsel with an attorney chosen by Thornsbury and his co-conspirators, which the defendant did.
On Oct. 2, 2013, Thornsbury entered into a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to the felony offense of conspiracy against civil rights and agreed to resign as circuit judge of West Virginia's 13th Judicial Circuit. According to the lawsuit, Thornsbury was found guilty and sentenced to 50 months in prison.
The West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board says Thornsbury's conduct constitutes a breach of the oath of office he took and proves he has rendered less than honorable service during his employment with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in Mingo County.
The complaint states this precludes him from drawing benefits from any of the state's retirement systems.
The plaintiff says this also affects Thornsbury's ex-wife, Drema Thornsbury, who is a beneficiary of the marital portion of Michael Thornsbury's retirement accounts, but her eligibility is entirely derivative of of the eligibility of her ex-husband, as she is not herself a member of the retirement systems, making her likewise ineligible.
The board seeks court affirmation that Michael Thornsbury is ineligible for to receive any state retirement benefits and that Dream Thornsbury is consequently ineligible, in addition to court costs and attorney fees.
The retirement board is represented by attorney Jerri Jeaneen Legato of Charleston. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer F. Bailey.
Earlier this year, Thornsbury was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison. Federal officials claim Thornsbury and other Mingo County officials – including former Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael 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 former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. Crum was shot and killed in a Williamson parking lot last year.
Thornsbury is one of four former Mingo County official sent to federal prison in the federal corruption probe. Thornsbury was Mingo County’s only circuit judge for 17 years.
Earlier this year, he also was sued by a former Mingo County deputy circuit clerk who claims Thornsbury slandered her and had her fired.
And, a Mingo County magistrate recently sued Thornsbury and other officials, saying they conspired to force her to retire so they could replace her with a magistrate who would comply with their wishes.
Also earlier this year, a contractor filed a federal lawsuit against Thornsbury claiming he and others conspired against him and violated his civil rights.
Fletcher and Moore were given immunity in exchange for their testimony in the federal corruption probe.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 14-C-1749