CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled that Michael Thornsbury, the former Mingo County judge who was convicted of felony offense of conspiracy against civil rights is ineligible for retirement benefits.
The memorandum decision was issued Feb. 9 and pertained to two appeals, one by Michael Thornsbury, and one by his ex-wife, Dreama Thornsbury.
In the decision, the justices affirmed a February 2017 ruling from Kanawha Circuit Court to terminate Michael Thornsbury’s membership in the West Virginia Public Employee Retirement System and the West Virginia Judges’ retirement system.
Dreama Thornsbury, who was previously awarded access to the benefits as part of their divorce settlement, was also denied.
While serving as the sole judge in Mingo County, Michael Thornsbury conspired with other local public officials to prevent an informant/criminal defendant from further communicating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding possible criminal activity by the Mingo County sheriff and Michael Thornsbury agreed to impose a lighter sentence on the informant in return for the informant discharging his legal counsel, who had previously facilitated the informant’s communication with the FBI, and retaining legal counsel chosen by Michael Thornsbury.
Michael Thornsbury entered a plea agreement in October 2013, in which he agreed to plead guilty to felony offense of conspiracy against civil rights. In June 2014, the federal court adjudged Michael Thornsbury guilty and sentenced him to 50 months in prison and three years of probation.
Michael Thornsbury has an expected release date of March 15 from a federal prison in Florida.
In July 2014, the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board met and decided to terminate Michael Thornsbury’s retirement benefits as a result of his conviction, citing his “less than honorable service.”
“Upon receipt of notice to such effect from the Board, Mr. Thornsbury exercised his right to demand that the Board seek a determination of his eligibility for pension benefits in the circuit court,” the decision states. “Thereafter, on September 23, 2014, the Board filed a petition to terminate Mr. Thornsbury’s retirement benefits in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County.”
Dreama Thornsbury was included as a respondent to the board’s petition, and, by order entered on Feb. 24, 2017, the circuit court granted the board’s petition and terminated Michael Thornsbury’s membership in both his Public Employees’ Retirement and Judges’ Retirement plans.
Michael Thornsbury and Dreama Thornsbury then appealed.
In his appeal, Michael Thornsbury arged that he was denied due process by members of the board.
Dreama Thornsbury argued that she should not lose her status as a beneficiary to her ex-husband’s retirement accounts because of his behavior, because she did nothing wrong.
“We do not find [Dreama Thornsbury’s] argument compelling,” the decision states. “It is undisputed that Ms. Thornsbury’s entitlement as a beneficiary on the retirement accounts is entirely derivative of Mr. Thornsbury’s entitlement to receive the benefits as she did not contribute any funds to either of the two plans at issue.”
Michael Thornsbury undisputedly used his position as a circuit judge to violate the constitutional rights of individuals appearing before him, according to the decision.
“Equity does not dictate that this court ignore that fact and allow Ms. Thornsbury to benefit from his publically-funded retirement accounts,” the decision states.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case numbers: 17-0265, 17-0280