CHARLESTON – Delegates from Mingo County will introduce legislation that would add a second circuit judge, they announced just days after its lone judge was suspended.
House Majority Leader Harry Keith White said Aug. 19 that it’s time for the county to have a second judge. On Aug. 15, the state Supreme Court suspended Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury without pay and also suspended his law license as a result of a federal indictment.
Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of the husband of a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship. The woman was also his secretary.
“The need for more than one circuit judge in our county has long been discussed, but the events of the past week have further shed light on the issue,” White said.
“We want to ensure that all citizens of Mingo County have access to an effective court system without delay.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin appointed Senior Status Judge John L. Cummings of Cabell County to replace Thornsbury during the suspension. Senior Status Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh, who chose not to seek re-election to the Supreme Court last year, will assist with abuse and neglect, domestic violence, juvenile and other emergency issues.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury has filed a complaint against Thornsbury with the Judicial Investigation Commission.
Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, announced Thornsbury’s indictment Aug. 19.
Goodwin alleges Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs under the truck of a man known as R.W., the husband of Thornsbury’s secretary. Goodwin alleges this happened after the secretary, known as K.W., broke off the romantic relationship with Thornsbury.
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 R.W., the indictment says. The indictment alleged R.W. was stealing scrap metal from his employer, even though R.W. had permission to salvage the metal.
A criminal complaint was filed against R.W. 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 R.W. He created a set of subpoenas that ordered R.W.’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 R.W., it says.
In 2012, R.W. 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 R.W. received six months’ home confinement, the indictment says.
After R.W. refused a plea deal, the prosecutor dismissed the case on the eve of trial.
Del. Justin Marcum, who is an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County, said a second circuit judge would ensure the judicial system operates more effectively and with more accountability.
The bill will be introduced during the 2014 regular legislative session.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at email@example.com.