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Mingo judge nominees would run for full terms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Both public defenders recommended to the governor to take over as Mingo County circuit judge said they will run for the position in next year's election, even if they don't get the appointment.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will choose either Teresa McCune or Jonathan "Duke" Jewell, both Democrats, to serve until someone is elected to finish Michael Thornsbury's term as Mingo circuit judge. The West Virginia Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission recommended McCune and Jewell on Tuesday after interviewing six applicants for the position.

Thornsbury, also a Democrat, had served as the sole circuit judge in the 30th Judicial Circuit since 1997 and was re-elected to an eight-year term in 2008. He pleaded guilty in federal court on Oct. 2 to conspiring to deprive a drug suspect of his legal rights in a scheme to thwart a federal investigation into the county's sheriff.

McCune, 61, has served as chief public defender in Mingo for 23 years, she said Wednesday.

"I've lived in Mingo County for 33 years because I love the people here," she said. "I love this county, and the people here do deserve to be able to have a justice system that they trust."

Four county officials have pleaded guilty to federal crimes as a result of an ongoing corruption investigation by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office. Besides Thornsbury, the county's prosecuting attorney, a magistrate and a county commissioner have resigned after pleading guilty.

"The judiciary, at least in Mingo County, has suffered a terrible blow with the federal investigation," Jewell said. "There's obviously a cloud hanging over that position -- every elected position in Mingo County, in general."

Jewell, 40, has worked as a public defender in Mingo for a little more than nine years. He grew up in Williamson and attended law school at Ohio Northern University.

"The paramount concern, now more than ever, is that whoever gets the appointment does a great job," he said. "It's going to take time. One thing we have to deal with is restoring the public's trust. People are so fed up."

Frustration is what Jewell said inspired him to seek the appointment.

"Like most good people in Mingo County, I was just disgusted and bewildered by what came out of the federal investigation. I've stayed away from politics down here but, at this point, with all this going on and all the negativity, I felt compelled," he said. "I had to come forward and make a difference for the better and get us moving in the right direction. It's sad, but that's the situation we're in. I just want to do my part."

Although Jewell said he never filed a complaint with the state Judicial Investigation Commission about Thornsbury, he did file motions on several occasions challenging some of the former judge's rulings.

"Those were always met with resistance," he said.

McCune also didn't file a complaint with the commission that investigates complaints about judges in the state.

"When we thought that inappropriate procedures were followed, we filed the appropriate legal documents," she said.

McCune grew up in Belle and attended Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. She came to Mingo County as a social worker to help during the devastating flood of 1977.

"I fell in love with the county and the people," she said.

McCune didn't want to speak about the federal investigation but said she'd like to give Mingo residents what they deserve: trust in their officials.

 "I don't have any comment about the investigation, especially since it's ongoing. I'm only willing to say that I'm honored to be recommended by the commission. There were a lot of good applicants, so it makes it much more of an honor to be chosen out of so many good applicants, and I look forward to what the future holds for Mingo County," she said. "I love the law and I love this county, and I'd like to see trust restored."

The commission could have recommended up to five applicants to the governor. Four others had applied for the position: Robert H. Carlton, Steven Johnston Knopp, Glen R. Rutledge II and Mingo Family Court Judge Miki Thompson.

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


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