CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks said Monday that he was working in an "intimidating environment" -- and that's why he didn't report the county's circuit judge's misconduct as alleged by federal prosecutors.
"You stop things, but you got to have more than [rumors], you know -- getting a judicial officer fired, it's difficult," Sparks said.
Michael Thornsbury, 57, who has served as Mingo County'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, Robert Woodruff.
Thornsbury allegedly had a brief affair with his secretary, and tried to retaliate against her husband after she ended the relationship. Federal prosecutors say the judge put his business partner in charge of a county grand jury as foreman in 2009, plotted to plant drugs on Woodruff and tried to get the man sent to jail.
Attorneys are required to report judicial misconduct, according to the State Bar's rules of professional conduct for lawyers.
According to last week's indictment, Sparks knew at least some of what Thornsbury was allegedly plotting. How much he knew would be the question if an investigation were launched into his conduct, said Harry Deitzler, president of the West Virginia State Bar.
The State Bar's rules of professional conduct state that, "A lawyer having knowledge that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judge's fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority."
"The word substantial is an essential part of that analysis," Deitzler said Monday, adding that a prosecutor who accused a judge of illegal conduct would want to be very sure of his facts.
"Keep in mind, if a prosecuting attorney brings charges against a judge in the attorney's home county, that attorney is going to be very uncomfortable for the remainder of that judge's tenure if the charges don't stick," Deitzler said. "It's easy to reach a conclusion retrospectively, after the indictment is returned, but I don't think the Mingo County prosecuting attorney had the level of detailed knowledge reflected in the indictment."
Sparks said Monday that he wants to defend himself, but also doesn't want to hinder the case against Thornsbury. He believes he will be called to testify.
"To some, I'm a hero, because I assisted and supported and provided a lot of information. To others, I only did it because I was in trouble, which is not true," Sparks said.
According to last week's indictment, Thornsbury got State Police Trooper Brandon Moore to file a criminal complaint against Robert Woodruff, accusing him of stealing scrap metal from his employer -- even though the judge and the trooper knew Woodruff was allowed to take the scraps. (Moore has been placed on paid administrative leave by the State Police until an internal investigation is complete.)
Then-county magistrate Eugene Crum issued a warrant and Woodruff was arrested and charged with grand larceny in December 2008. But Crum dismissed the charge after Sparks disqualified himself from the case.
Federal prosecutors said in the indictment that when Robert Woodruff was arrested, "Prosecutor Sparks knew and had reason to know that Judge Thornsbury had been in a romantic relationship with [Kim Woodruff] and knew that Judge Thornsbury exerted great influence over Tpr. Moore in the performance of Tpr. Moore's official duties."
According to the indictment, Sparks recused himself from the case against Robert Woodruff because he "recognized that the criminal charges against [Woodruff] were improper ..."