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.