West Virginia county judge, official indicted
August 17, 2013
By John Raby and Vicki Smith / Associated Press
WILLIAMSON, W.Va. --
Even in southern West Virginia, where corruption is as much as a part of life as coal, people are shocked by allegations that a judge commandeered the legal system in a years long attempt to frame a romantic rival for crimes he didn't commit.
Federal prosecutors indicted Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury on two counts of conspiracy Thursday, just hours after indicting county Commissioner Dave Baisden on extortion charges. Thornsbury attorney Steve Jory declined comment, while Mr. Baisden's attorney did not return messages.
The state Supreme Court has suspended Judge Thornsbury and his law license. A replacement judge took his caseload Friday. Judge Thornsbury is set to appear in federal court in Charleston at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, he has been ordered to surrender his passport, give up any weapons and avoid contact with dozens of potential witnesses, including another judge, county officials, five state troopers and prominent multimillionaire industrialist James "Buck" Harless.
Judge Thornsbury and Mr. Baisden are free on $10,000 bond while awaiting trial. The indictments were painful news in a community still reeling from its sheriff's assassination in April.
"It's hard for me to believe, because I personally know the judge. I know him as a personal friend. I've been to his home. I know his kids," said Williamson pastor, the Rev. Butch Gregory.
Rev. Gregory's wife, Louise, hired Judge Thornsbury as her lawyer long before he became the county's only judge in 1997.
"As a married man, he should have known better," she said. "I don't really trust nobody out here anymore."
The indictment says Judge Thornsbury tried between 2008 and 2012 to frame Robert Woodruff for crimes including drug possession, larceny and assault. The judge had been having an affair with his secretary -- Mr. Woodruff's wife, Kim -- and sought to eliminate the competition after she tried to break things off, it says.
The schemes involved a state trooper, the county emergency services director and another man, the indictment says, but none of them panned out.
Judge Thornsbury faces as much as 20 years in prison if convicted, and a Woodruff lawyer says he can also expect a civil lawsuit. "My client should never have been placed under the stress of being charged criminally," said Charleston attorney Mike Callaghan, "nor should he have spent time in jail for crimes he did not commit. As a lawyer, I knew something was wrong. But never in my wildest dreams did I fathom the reason for the prosecution."
Meanwhile, Mr. Baisden, the county commissioner, was accused of trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount, then terminating the county's contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate. Mr. Baisden, 66, was released on $10,000 bond and ordered not to discuss the case with any witnesses.
In April, Mingo County's Sheriff Eugene Crum was shot twice in the head while parked in his cruiser. The suspect, Tennis Melvin Maynard, is facing first-degree murder charges.
The motive for the slaying has not been revealed.
Mingo County, a coalfields community of about 27,000 people on the state's southern border with Kentucky, has a long history of violence and government corruption.
It's the home of the legendary feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and was dubbed "Bloody Mingo" when unionizing miners battled security agents and coal companies in the early 20th century.
"The people of Mingo County are long overdue deliverance from the evils of government corruption," said Pittsburgh attorney Bruce Stanley, a native who has filed cases in Judge Thornsbury's court.
"After multiple generations of scandals, is it any wonder that southern West Virginia fatalism is so firmly entrenched? Why should they place faith in anyone who claims to be a community leader?"