CHARLESTON – A man convicted of felony drug charges in Mingo County is suing county officials and the state, seeking to stop the alleged misuse of a so-called "Judge's Work Program."
Robert Jerome Warren filed a lawsuit April 8 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, the Mingo County Commission and the state Division of Highways.
Warren alleges that Thornsbury uses the program for campaign purposes and to garner favor with state agencies, specifically the West Virginia State Police, Division of Highways and the Division of Natural Resources.
Following the charges being filed, Warren says he was released on $75,000 bond and placed on home confinement and order to report every morning to the "Judge's Work Program."
Warren says the program is funded by the county commission, who allow Thornsbury to place signs on county vehicles advertising that they are being used for the program. Rick Martin and Robert "Buck" Hatfield, identified as employees of the county commission, oversee the program, the lawsuit says.
On March 27, 2009, Warren said he reported to the program. Hatfield got his daily instructions from Thornsbury's secretary as to where the crew was supposed to go and what they were supposed to do, Warren says.
That day's work was to cut down large trees along W.Va. 49 near Delorme, the lawsuit says. Hatfield drove one county vehicle and a participant in the work program drove another to the work site, the lawsuit says.
At the site, they were met by an employee of the Division of Highways, who had brought along a wood chipper, the complaint says.
Warren says he and the other members of the crew were not provided with any safety equipment or training as to how to perform the work and use the machines that were being provided.
Another member of the crew, who allegedly had their arm in a splint from a previous injury related to the judge's program, was operating a chainsaw, the complaint says. Warren claims the chainsaw cut his leg.
Hatfield then instructed the highways employee to take Warren back to the county courthouse, the lawsuit says. Instead, the employee took Warren to meet with an ambulance along W.Va. 49. The ambulance took the unaccompanied Warren to a hospital in South Williamson, Ky., the lawsuit says.
Warren claims that he and other program participants were forced to wash State Police cars and paint the Williamson barracks.
Warren further alleges that the program participants are also used to wash and repair private vehicles, build private bridges and take water to private individuals.
Thornsbury "inappropriately uses the program for partisan campaign purposes and to garner favor with various state agencies," the complaint says.
Thornsbury also "boasts and claims credit with the public at large and individuals and state agencies for all the work done by" the program.
Warren is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He also wants a judge to stop Thornsbury from improperly using the program for the purposes he alleges.
Letitia Neese Chafin is representing Warren. The case is before Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-633