Former Mingo judge moves to dismiss civil suit against him

By John O'Brien | Oct 31, 2013

CHARLESTON – Former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury has asked a federal judge to dismiss the civil lawsuit filed against him over an alleged scheme to deprive a man of his civil rights.

On Oct. 25, Thornsbury filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Robert Woodruff, whom Thornsbury is accused of attempting to set up because of romantic feelings Thornsbury had for Woodruff’s wife.

Woodruff is the husband of Kimberly Woodruff, who was Thornsbury’s secretary. Since an indictment in August, Thornsbury has pleaded guilty to depriving a different man of his civil rights and resigned.

Thornsbury is claiming the civil complaint was not served on him properly.

“In this matter, the plaintiff has served a copy of the summons and complaint on the wrong address and upon a person who was not an agent of Mr. Thornsbury’s,” the memorandum in support of his motion to dismiss says.

“Therefore, Mr. Thornsbury has yet to be served. While Mr. Thornsbury did formerly live at the address where service was attempted, he moved out of that address into another residence.

“He has not visited or slept at the residence, nor has he kept any of his personal belongings at the location since on or before Oct. 3, 2013.”

As a result, the complaint should be dismissed, attorney Philip B. Sword of Shuman, McCuskey & Slicer in Charleston argues.

Woodruff was referred to as R.W. in an indictment filed against Thornsbury filed 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.

Woodruff said he was only recently made aware of the scheme to deprive him of his rights and the attempt to seduce his wife.

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.

Woodruff is represented by Michael O. Callaghan of Neely & Callaghan in Charleston.

Also recently filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him was Steve Canterbury, the administrator of the state Supreme Court.

Canterbury says he is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, because the amendment prohibits damages suits in federal court against a government official in his or her official capacity.

Canterbury says he was only sued in his official capacity, and that the complaint made no specific allegations toward him.

“(T)he plaintiff must establish that the employer or supervisor engaged in unconstitutional conduct,” the memorandum says.

“The plaintiff has made no such showing in the present case.”

Canterbury is represented by Stephanie J. Shepherd of Hedges Lyons & Shepherd in Morgantown.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at

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