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Prosecutors confirm earlier Thornsbury charge to be dropped

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors will drop the charges that Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was indicted on last month in exchange for his guilty plea to a charge filed against him last week.

Prosecutors will drop charges filed last month that say Thornsbury violated the rights of his former secretary's husband by trying to land the man in jail. In exchange, Thornsbury has agreed to plead guilty to a charge filed last week that alleges the judge conspired to deprive a drug dealer of his constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston on Tuesday scheduled a plea hearing for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in Charleston.

In a motion filed earlier Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby asked for the original case to be delayed until a judge decides whether to accept Thornsbury's guilty plea on the other charges.

The charge filed against Thornsbury last week came in the form of an information, which cannot be filed without a defendant's consent, and usually means a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said on Thursday that Thornsbury would plead guilty to that charge. Conspiring to deprive someone of his or her constitutional rights carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence, Goodwin has said.

In the indictment last month, federal prosecutors said 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. Thornsbury pleaded not guilty to that charge.

Last week, Johnston canceled the Sept. 26 pretrial hearing date for the earlier case involving Thornsbury.  In his order, Johnston wrote the hearing was canceled because there were no pending motions in the case. The trial had been set for Oct. 15.

Thornsbury remains free on $10,000 bail.

The Woodruffs' lawyer, Mike Callaghan, had already sent notice to the Supreme Court that he plans to sue over Thornsbury's alleged conduct. Callaghan said Tuesday that dropping the charges in the indictment wouldn't hurt his lawsuit.

He also noted that the federal judge would know about the charges contained in the indictment when he sentences Thornsbury.

"I'm fine with that," Callaghan said. "We have established a civil case and we have enough facts to prove our case so we aren't too worried about [it]. Whatever the government finds is an appropriate resolution of Thornsbury is acceptable to my clients."

Callaghan said his lawsuit would also contain a wrongful discharge claim, because Thornsbury allegedly fired Kim Woodruff. Callaghan has decided to wait to file the lawsuit until mediation is held. He expects the parties to meet and try to settle the case during the first two weeks of October.

Callaghan served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1992 through 2001 in the Southern District of West Virginia. During his last five years as a federal prosecutor he was chief of the criminal division, he said.

"If he doesn't want to plead guilty to all this stuff about the Woodruffs, but he will to this other stuff, which is the exact same thing, you say, OK, who cares?" Callaghan said. "Why make your life difficult as a prosecutor when you have lots of other cases to look at ... once you get a conviction in front of a judge you've done your job.

"I have no problems at all with the way they've done their jobs. I'd actually compliment them on getting this resolved in an expeditious manner."

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


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