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Mingo prosecutor denies federal conspiracy allegations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks never engaged in any misconduct and never had enough information to report alleged misconduct by other public officials, his lawyer told the West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday.

The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition Thursday afternoon asking the Supreme Court to immediately suspend Sparks' law license. Earlier Thursday, federal prosecutors had said he was part of a conspiracy to shut down a federal investigation of the Mingo County sheriff.

"Mr. Sparks was never a part of Judge Thornsbury's inner circle and he never wanted to be included in that group," Sparks' attorney, Lonnie Simmons, wrote in the response to the ODC charges.

According to a federal charge filed Thursday against Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, three county officials -- Sparks, Sheriff Eugene Crum and Commissioner David Baisden -- conspired to interrupt a federal investigation of Crum and cover up allegations that Crum illegally received prescription painkillers from a convicted drug dealer.

Last month, Sparks, who has been the county prosecutor since 2005, was mentioned in a federal indictment that charged Thornsbury with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary's husband.

That indictment states that Sparks knew at least some of what Thornsbury allegedly was plotting.

Federal prosecutors say Thornsbury, Mingo County's only circuit judge, put his business partner in charge of a county grand jury as foreman, plotted to plant drugs on Robert Woodruff and tried to get the man sent to jail after Kim Woodruff, the judge's secretary at the time, broke off an affair with him.

Sparks didn't know at the time about any statute or case law prohibiting Jarrod Fletcher, the county's director of emergency services, from serving as grand jury foreman, the response states. He knew police officers and firefighters can serve on grand juries and he considered Fletcher's job to be similar.

The high court granted Simmons' request to file a response Friday.

When a complaint is filed asking for immediate suspension, "the rule doesn't say that a response is required or can be filed -- that's why we had to seek permission to file something," Simmons said.

Attorneys are required to report judicial misconduct, according to the State Bar's rules of professional conduct for lawyers; prosecutors are held to an even higher standard of conduct.

It would "be erroneous for anyone to read the entire indictment and conclude Mr. Sparks had knowledge of every fact, plan, and scheme alleged therein," Simmons wrote in the response.

Never did Sparks have "actual knowledge" that Thornsbury violated rules of judicial conduct that raised a question as to his fitness for office, the response states.

In last month's indictments, prosecutors said Thornsbury schemed to have Robert Woodruff arrested and put in jail on trumped-up charges.

When Sparks learned that Woodruff was arrested, the response says, he was suspicious because of the rumors he had heard that Thornsbury was having an affair with Woodruff's wife.

"However, Mr. Sparks had no actual knowledge that Judge Thornsbury played any role in this arrest," Simmons says in the response.

"While Mr. Sparks did suspect these criminal charges may have been filed at the request of Judge Thornsbury to somehow further his relationship with [Kim Woodruff], Mr. Sparks had no substantial proof either of any romantic relationship between Judge Thornsbury and [Kim Woodruff] and further had no evidence of Judge Thornsbury's involvement in obtaining these criminal charges against [Robert Woodruff]."

Simmons also noted that if an attorney files a complaint against a judge -- especially against the lone judge in the county -- "the lawyer had better have solid evidence to support such a serious charge."

Per Judicial Investigation Commission rules, a judge is allowed to see the complaint and respond to it, the response points out.

"Any prosecutor filing such a complaint in a single judge county, without first having unimpeachable evidence establishing the judge had engaged in misconduct which raises a substantial question as to his fitness for office, would be committing professional and political suicide," Simmons wrote.

Friday afternoon, Sparks quoted lyrics to the song "Bring It On," by Steven Curtis Chapman, on his public Facebook page.

"Bring it on. Let the lightning flash, let the thunder roll, let the storm winds blow. Bring it on. Let the trouble come, let it make me fall on the One who's strong. Bring it on," the post read.

In a statement he emailed to the Gazette-Mail early Friday, Sparks said he had been "Thornsburied" and alleged Thornsbury had made up the allegations against him contained in Thursday's charge.

"Thornsbury has been proven to be a sinister and corrupt womanizer that abused the power of his judgeship in multiple attempts to falsely incriminate a romantic rival. I fully expected to be a target of Thornsbury's vindictiveness since I substantially cooperated in the federal investigation of Thornsbury," Sparks said in the statement.

He also said Thornsbury has wrongly accused Crum, who was shot to death in his police cruiser in April.

"Sheriff Crum can no longer defend himself. Rosie Crum and the entire Crum family are still grieving and have done nothing to deserve Thornsbury's treachery," Sparks said.

Crum's widow, Rosie, also has denied her husband's role in the alleged scheme.

In the petition for suspension, chief ODC attorney Rachael Cipoletti, stated that Sparks poses "a substantial threat of irreparable harm; he is unable and/or unwilling to represent the interests of the citizens of Mingo County."

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


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