West Virginia judge arrested on federal charge

WV Gazette- by Kate White

Read the indictment here.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was arrested Thursday after federal authorities allege he targeted his ex-lover’s husband and used his position on the bench to manipulate criminal charges against the man.

The indictment, returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Charleston, charges Thornsbury with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband. An indictment means that grand jurors have decided that enough evidence exists to warrant a criminal trial.  

The former secretary and her husband were identified by their initials in the indictment. A statement from the lawyer for the former secretary and her husband identified them as Kim and Robert Woodruff, according to The Associated Press.

Prosecutors allege Thornsbury, the county’s only circuit judge, put his business partner in charge of a Mingo grand jury as foreman, plotted to plant drugs on Robert Woodruff and tried to get the man sent to jail.

Thornsbury, a Democrat, “persecuted his secretary’s husband, his romantic rival” and used the justice system for his own “nefarious purpose,” Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said in a Thursday news conference.

Thornsbury surrendered himself to authorities in Charleston. After an initial appearance in federal court, he was released on $10,000 bond.

A State Police trooper and a Mingo County official who allegedly helped the judge will not be charged, federal prosecutors said.

The state Supreme Court decided Thursday to suspend Thornsbury without pay, and also to suspend his law license. Chief Justice Brent Benjamin appointed John Cummings, a senior status judge from Cabell County, to replace Thornsbury on the Mingo County bench. Thomas McHugh, a retired state Supreme Court justice, will assist Cummings.

Thornsbury, 57, of Williamson, has served as circuit judge since 1997. He allegedly began a relationship with his secretary in early 2008.

After Kim Woodruff broke off the relationship in June 2008, prosecutors say, Thornsbury asked his friend Jeff Cline to plant drugs underneath Robert Woodruff’s pickup truck. The judge had allegedly made plans for police to pull Woodruff over and conduct a search.

Cline backed out at the last minute, prosecutors say.

The indictment also alleges Thornsbury enlisted State Police Trooper Brandon Moore, who worked in the Williamson detachment, to file a criminal complaint against Robert Woodruff, accusing him of stealing scrap metal from his employer.

Woodruff worked at a coal preparation plant, where mined coal was processed before being shipped. There, he removed scrap metal that had fallen in with the coal.

When Thornsbury found that Woodruff’s supervisors allowed him to salvage drill bits, among other scraps that could be repurposed, he allegedly persuaded Moore to file a criminal complaint against him.

Moore — who was named West Virginia State Police “Trooper of the Year” in 2010 — resisted at first because he knew Woodruff’s bosses allowed him to take the metal, according to prosecutors. But the trooper eventually gave in to the judge and filed the complaint, the indictment alleges.

Then-Magistrate Eugene Crum issued a warrant and Woodruff was arrested and charged with grand larceny in December 2008. Crum eventually dismissed the charge after county prosecutor Michael Sparks disqualified himself from the case — which, according to the indictment, could have led to discovery of Thornsbury’s scheme.

Prosecutors also identified one of Thornsbury’s business partners as part of the conspiracy.

In January 2009, Thornsbury chose Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County’s director of homeland security and emergency management, to be the foreman of a new grand jury.

Fletcher owned a commercial real estate business and a wine shop with Thornsbury. The two also were joint debtors on $1.8 million in business loans.

The business relationship between Thornsbury and Fletcher was not widely known at the time, and Thornsbury did not disclose it when he made Fletcher the grand jury foreman, prosecutors say.

With Fletcher in charge of the grand jury, Thornsbury was allegedly able to sway the jury’s authority and use it to victimize Robert Woodruff.

The judge allegedly created a set of self-styled subpoenas, which Fletcher signed, ordering Woodruff’s employer and various other local companies to surrender private documents about him, the indictment alleges.

While most companies handed over the documents, one of the companies, identified as DBC Inc. in the indictment, requested more time to respond.

Thornsbury entered an order denying that request. But DBC waged a legal battle against the subpoena and eventually discovered the business ties between the judge and Fletcher, which the company revealed in a court filing, prosecutors say.

That forced Thornsbury to abandon his plan to use the grand jury against Woodruff, prosecutors say — but they say it wasn’t the judge’s last attempt.

Last year, Woodruff was involved in an altercation with two men at a convenience store. One of the men swung at Woodruff and the other pulled a gun. The two men were arrested and charged with assault.

But about a month later, the charges against those two men were dismissed, and, instead, Woodruff was charged with assault and battery.

Thornsbury allegedly had a “messenger” tell the county prosecutor to make sure Woodruff received six months in jail for the misdemeanor charge — “an extraordinarily harsh punishment even if [Woodruff] had been guilty,” according to prosecutors.

Woodruff refused to take a deal offered by prosecutors that would have jailed him for six months for the charge. On the eve of his trial date, a prosecutor ended up dismissing the case because he believed the prosecution was not in the interest of justice, prosecutors say.

Charleston lawyer Mike Callaghan, who represents the Woodruffs, said they plan to sue, according to the AP.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Police conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby is in charge of the prosecution.

Neither Moore nor Fletcher will be charged, Goodwin said Thursday.

Moore has been placed on paid administrative leave by the State Police until an internal investigation is complete.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said personnel laws prohibited him from naming the trooper placed on leave, even though the federal indictment names Moore.

Baylous said State Police assisted in the corruption probe, and knew about the allegations of misconduct by the trooper. He said they held off taking action against the trooper until the indictment was unsealed to keep from jeopardizing the federal investigation.

“The agency’s integrity is of the utmost importance not only to me, but the the people we serve,” State Police Superintendent Col. Jay Smithers said in a statement. “I have faith that this established process will serve the best interest of the public, the West Virginia State Police, and more importantly, justice itself.”

State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury filed an “extraordinary complaint” against Thornsbury. Under Rule 2.14 of the Rules of Judical Disciplinary Procedure, the extraordinary remedy can be taken if a judge is convicted of or indicted for an alleged crime.

The complaint went to the state Judicial Investigation Commission, which recommended that Thornsbury be suspended without pay. The Supreme Court agreed with the recommendation, and suspended Thornsbury immediately until the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

Thornsbury is a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Pikeville in Kentucky, but his name and photo were removed from the school’s website Thursday afternoon.

He graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law and then worked as an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County from 1981 to 1983. He then ran his own civil and criminal law practice in Williamson.

Thornsbury ran for the House of Delegates in 1988, as part of what he said was a movement to clean up Mingo County politics.

“It’s up to the people this time,” Thornsbury told The Associated Press at the time. “They can choose the old way, or they can take the best opportunity they’ve had to vote good, honest candidates into office.”

Thornsbury lost that bid for House, and a second try for the post two years later. Then in January 1997, Thornsbury was appointed to the Mingo Circuit Court bench by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton to replace Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard, who had won a state Supreme Court seat the previous November.

A decade later, in 2008, Maynard lost his bid for re-election to the Supreme Court after photographs surfaced of him vacationing on the French Riviera with Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. At the time, an appeal of a $50 million verdict against Massey was heading for the high court.

The following year, in August 2009, Thornsbury was ordered by the state Supreme Court to step down from hearing a major coal-slurry pollution case against Massey.

Thornsbury had refused to voluntarily step aside in the case after lawyers for residents who were suing Massey alleged the judge frequently socialized with Blankenship. Thornsbury denied the allegations, saying that he had “no political or business ties with Mr. Blankenship” and that “social contact is limited to exchanging ordinary greetings.” The judge also denied allegations that he was using the case to help a business partner — a local doctor with ties to Massey — profit from a medical monitoring program being set up as part of the suit.

The local doctor, Dr. C. Donovan Beckett, is a partner with Thornsbury in a company called Williamson Renaissance Development Inc. That company is mentioned in Thornsbury’s indictment because Fletcher was the third partner in the firm.

Among those who offered a sworn affidavit in support of Thornsbury’s version of events was then-Magistrate Eugene Crum, who was elected as Mingo County sheriff last year on an anti-drug platform, then was shot to death this April in downtown Williamson.

Crum is mentioned in Thursday’s indictment of Thornsbury. It says that on Dec. 1, 2008, Magistrate Crum issued an arrest warrant for Robert Woodruff “based on the false criminal complaint” concerning the mining drill bits. Crum later dismissed the complaint Jan. 9, 2009, the indictment says.

Lawyers for residents in the slurry case had alleged Thornsbury and Blankenship had lunch in April 2009 — around the time of a key development in the slurry litigation — at Starters, a restaurant near the courthouse. Crum said in his affidavit that he had lunch with Thornsbury that day and that Blankenship was sitting two tables away.

Kevin Thompson, a lawyer for the residents, later outlined how Thornsbury had in 1985, while in private practice, defended Massey’s Rawl Sales subsidiary in a blasting damage case filed against the company by a dozen residents, including Raymond Fitch, who was also a plaintiff in the slurry lawsuit.

The second letter was enough to prompt then-Acting Chief Justice Robin Davis to sign an order removing Thornsbury from the case. Davis noted that an expert witness for the residents had reported that blasting activities by Massey could have been one cause of fractured underground strata that allowed slurry injected by the company to contaminate local drinking water.

Davis said the “temporal and geographical relationship between the prior matter and the allegations and defenses in the current litigation” warranted Thornsbury’s disqualification.

Goodwin said Thursday that the investigation into political corruption in Mingo County is “ongoing.”

“Should anyone have any evidence of further criminal acts they shouldn’t hesitate [to contact my office],” he said.

Staff writers Ken Ward Jr. and Rusty Marks contributed to this report. Reach Kate White at kate.wh…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


3 thoughts on “West Virginia judge arrested on federal charge

  1. So if this judge asked a freind of his to set this guy up with drugs tells me that this judge associates with drug users. 🙂 . This damned judge needs mandatory prison time with enhanced charges. This judge has been doing this for 5 years tells me also thatt he is doing other crooked devious activities and is a real danger to society and needs to be locked up in prison with the very same ones he locked up for years, and for probobly minor offences.

    1. I’m sure this isn’t the first time this POS used such a tactic. Causes one to wonder just how many people are doing hard time because this puck had a erection for them.

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