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New Mingo judge sworn in; ex-DHHR official gets family court job

By Kate White, Staff writer

Miki Thompson was sworn in Wednesday as the new circuit judge in Mingo County, and an ousted state employee who is suing over her dismissal was appointed to take her place as family court judge.

Thompson was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last month to fill the seat left vacant after Michael Thornsbury resigned last year. She has served as family court judge in Mingo since 2009.

Later Wednesday, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis appointed former family law master Susan Shelton Perry to temporarily serve as Mingo family judge until Tomblin appoints someone else. In 2001, family court judges replaced family law masters.

Tomblin’s appointment of Thompson came about a week after she won the Democratic primary for circuit judge in Mingo County. Tomblin waited about five months longer than usual before naming a replacement for Thornsbury.

Thompson wasn’t one of the names of applicants recommended by the state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to Tomblin in December, but several members of the commission told the Gazette they thought she should get the appointment. No Republican filed for the seat, making it likely that Thompson will be elected to the bench in November.

Thornsbury was one of several Mingo County officials — including prosecutor Michael Sparks, county commissioner David Baisden and magistrate Dallas Toler — who resigned over the past year after being charged with federal crimes. In Thornsbury’s case, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive a man of his constitutional rights. He was sentenced Monday to 50 months in prison.

Since Thornsbury’s resignation, Senior Status Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings and retired state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh have filled in.

Cummings gave Thompson the oath of office. The ceremony was held Wednesday morning even though the courthouse didn’t have any electricity after Tuesday night’s storms, according to a news release from the state Supreme Court.

Perry, a former deputy secretary for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, was fired a year ago after being on administrative leave for about a year. Perry and former administrator Jennifer Taylor are suing DHHR, former acting DHHR secretary Rocco Fucillo, DHHR deputy secretary Warren Keefer and DHHR purchasing director Bryan Rosen, contending they were victims of illegal reprisals for their efforts as whistleblowers.

In April, Perry’s attorney, Walt Auvil, asked Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky to reinstate Perry and grant her back pay before the completion of the lawsuit. Stucky refused the request. A trial is set for August.

Perry claims state officials who fired her didn’t have legal authority to do so, because state lawmakers never approved Fucillo’s role as acting secretary.

Perry and Taylor’s lawsuits claim that they, along with DHHR communications director John Law, were fired for raising concerns about inconsistencies in the evaluation and scoring of the bid packages for an advertising contract.

According to the complaints, Perry asked Taylor to review the score sheets for the advertising bid packages to determine whether they could provide grounds for the successful protest of the contract award by any of the bidders, which could delay awarding of the contract and prompt legal costs.

Taylor’s analysis, according to the lawsuit, found major inconsistencies in scoring. She described the scoring as “a poster child for arbitrary and capricious,” according to the complaints.

According to the complaints, the issue came up in a July 13, 2012, conference call with Fucillo, who was working out of the DHHR’s Fairmont office, and Fucillo advised he would discuss the matter with them on July 16. Instead, on that date, Perry, Taylor and Law were placed on administrative leave, barred from DHHR offices, had their email accounts blocked and were prohibited from contacting DHHR staffers at the workplace, according to the lawsuit.

Also, Perry and Taylor allege that Fucillo ordered an investigation by the DHHR Office of Inspector General, “undertaken in bad faith, with malice, and the intent to retaliate and engage in reprisal against [Perry and Taylor] for their actions as whistleblowers.”

The lawsuits contend they were the subject of a “purported search warrant,” which they argue misrepresented facts surrounding the request for proposal review, and which essentially accuse Perry and Taylor of criminal conduct.

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


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