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Justices weigh how to proceed on Thornsbury

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Supreme Court justices could launch an investigation into Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's previous cases without being asked, but it wasn't clear Friday if they will.

Thornsbury, 57, who has served as Mingo's only circuit judge since 1997, was arrested Thursday after federal authorities charged him with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary's husband. He was released on a $10,000 bail.

Prosecutors allege the judge put his business partner in charge of a Mingo grand jury as foreman in 2009, plotted to plant drugs on Robert Woodruff and tried to get the man sent to jail.

Charleston attorney Mike Callaghan -- who represents Kim and Robert Woodruff, the former secretary and her husband -- said Friday afternoon that he already had received a half-dozen phone calls from litigants who appeared before the judge.

"I'm sure everyone who's been in front of the judge will say he's a crook," Callaghan said, "but I don't know if it goes any further than the relationship with my client.

"Were I on the Supreme Court, would I want to go do a little bit of looking? Sure."

The Supreme Court suspended Thornsbury without pay Thursday, and voted also to suspend his law license. One justice, Menis Ketchum, voted to let Thornsbury keep his salary during his suspension and to not suspend his law license. Thornsbury administered the oath of office to Ketchum when the latter was elected to the Supreme Court in 2008; an Associated Press article at the time described them as longtime friends.

Steve Canterbury, the court's administrator, said the court usually requires some sort of motion or filing to compel justices to take extraordinary actions. However, he said, Thornsbury's case is an administrative matter for the Supreme Court so it could launch its own investigation.

"There could be an action taken that would be on [the court's] own without a filing because of the administrative duty," Canterbury said. "There is a buzz of conversations going on between [the justices] now."

Canterbury pointed to the case of former West Virginia State Police serologist Fred Zain -- whose false testimony led to a number of wrongful convictions and imprisonments between 1979 and 1989 -- as an example of how the court handled a previous situation with some similarities.

"Our court appointed a special judge and created a habeas rule, so that any inmate [whose case] Fred Zain testified in had the right to file a petition and seek habeas corpus relief," said Lonnie Simmons, who represented Glen Dale Woodall, whose two rape convictions were overturned because of problems with Zain's evidence. "A whole bunch of inmates took advantage of that process."

Canterbury said, though, that any guesses about what the Supreme Court might do are "highly speculative and premature.

"Justices have to come back in session and talk about it among themselves," he said. "There's legal research to do to make sure any decision that's made is correct."

On Thursday, Supreme Court 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 Supreme Court justice, will assist Cummings.

Teresa McCune, head of the public defender's office in Mingo County, wouldn't say Friday if she thought clients would ask for their cases to be re-examined because of Thornsbury's charge.

Callaghan said he was going to send letters Friday notifying the Supreme Court (on behalf of Thornsbury), the State Police and the city of Gilbert that a lawsuit would be filed over the matter. State law requires a 30-day notice before someone sues a public agency.

Thornsbury allegedly enlisted State Police Trooper Brandon Moore to file a criminal complaint against Robert Woodruff, accusing him of stealing scrap metal from his employer.

The judge and the trooper allegedly knew that the man's employer allowed him to take the scraps. Moore has been placed on paid administrative leave by the State Police until an internal investigation is complete.

Then-magistrate Eugene Crum issued a warrant and Woodruff was arrested and charged with grand larceny in December 2008. Crum 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.

In January 2009, Thornsbury chose his business partner, Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County's director of homeland security and emergency management, to be the foreman of a grand jury. With Fletcher in charge of the grand jury, Thornsbury allegedly was able to sway the jury's authority and use it to victimize Robert Woodruff.

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

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

The indictments states that Gilbert Police Officer Nathan Glanden obtained the arrest warrant for Woodruff. The charges against him were later dismissed after he refused to plead guilty and take a deal offering him what prosecutors describe as an extreme punishment even if he were guilty.

Callaghan said he hasn't decided whether to file the lawsuit in federal court or in a circuit court.

He represented Robert Woodruff both times he was charged -- in 2008 and last year. Robert Woodruff didn't know about his wife's affair until recently, Callaghan said.

"I knew something was wrong with the charges, but I can't say I knew it was motivated by the judges nefarious thinking," he said. "I didn't, in my wildest imagination, think the judge was behind a false arrest. I had no idea, until very recently, when my clients were witnesses for the government."

Also in Mingo County on Thursday, County Commissioner David Baisden, 66, who has served as commissioner since 2009 and once was the county's assessor, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges unrelated to Thornsbury. Baisden allegedly tried to extort Appalachian Tire because it wouldn't give him a discount, costing the company thousands of dollars.

Thornsbury and Baisden will be arraigned at 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of U.S. Magistrate Dwane Tinsley. Thornsbury's case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston. Baisden's case is before U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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