Mingo County judge accused of scheming to frame romantic rival - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Mingo Co. cases in question after judge allegedly frames romantic rival

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Judge Michael Thornsbury Judge Michael Thornsbury
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UPDATE:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Every case the Mingo County grand jury heard in 2009 could be tainted by allegations that suspended Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury appointed a friend as foreman to help him frame a romantic rival.

West Virginia State Bar President Harry Deitzler says the fact that the foreman was also a public officeholder, and barred by law from holding the post, guarantees that lawyers are considering challenges.

The state Supreme Court will have to decide if any are valid.

Federal prosecutors charged Thornsbury with conspiracy Thursday, hours after indicting a county commissioner on unrelated extortion charges.

Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury says formal legal challenges may come after the charges are resolved. But there's no guarantee lawyers won't petition for an investigation sooner.

The court will handle those issues as they arise.

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP and WVVA) -- Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury has been charged with abusing his power and commandeering a grand jury in a failed attempt to frame a romantic rival for crimes.

Thornsbury, 57, is charged with conspiracy against a person's rights in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

Prosecutors say Thornsbury was having an affair with his secretary when she tried to end it. He tried to frame her husband to eliminate the competition.

The conspiracy included an attempt to plant drugs on the man and to get a trooper to file a false larceny complaint.

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Following is the release from the U.S. Attorney's Office regarding the investigation:

Judge Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of a victim identified as "R.W.," who was the husband of Thornsbury's secretary. In early 2008, the indictment alleges, Thornsbury began a romantic relationship with his secretary, identified as "K.W.," which she broke off in June of that year. After K.W. ended the relationship, Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs underneath R.W.'s pickup truck and then arranged for police to stop R.W. and search for the drugs. The co-conspirator tasked with planting the drugs backed out of the plan at the last minute, thwarting Thornsbury's scheme.

Thornsbury then tried a different approach, the indictment alleges. R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where newly mined coal was processed before shipping. One of the plant's functions was to remove scrap metal that had fallen into the coal during mining. Thornsbury learned that R.W.'s supervisors had given him permission to salvage scrap items, including drill bits, that were found amid coal at the plant, which were simply discarded if R.W. did not collect them.

Thornsbury secretly instructed a West Virginia state trooper to file a criminal complaint that falsely alleged R.W. was stealing the scrap material from his employer. The trooper resisted, telling Thornsbury that R.W. was allowed to salvage the scrap, but ultimately yielded to Thornsbury's demands, filing a false criminal complaint that led to R.W.'s arrest for grand larceny in December 2008.

In January 2009, a new Mingo County grand jury was empanelled, and Thornsbury decided to use it to pursue his campaign against R.W. As the county's sole circuit judge, Thornsbury was empowered to choose the foreperson of the new grand jury. He selected Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County's Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, with whom Thornsbury co-owned a commercial real estate business and a wine shop.

By installing Fletcher as grand jury foreperson, Thornsbury was able to secretly co-opt the grand jury's authority and use it to victimize R.W. In January 2009, Thornsbury created a set of purported grand jury subpoenas that ordered various local companies, including R.W.'s employer, to surrender private documents concerning R.W. He had Fletcher sign these purported subpoenas and send them out in the name of the grand jury. Thornsbury planned to ultimately use the grand jury to charge R.W. criminally.

In March 2009, one of the recipients of Thornsbury's so-called subpoenas, identified in the indictment as "DBC, Inc.," asked for more time to respond. Thornsbury entered a court order denying that request, without disclosing that he himself had ghostwritten the subpoena or that he was disqualified from any participation in the criminal case against R.W.

Most of the companies targeted by Thornsbury's subpoenas handed over the documents demanded, believing that the subpoenas were legitimate. DBC, Inc., however, waged a legal battle against the subpoena it received and eventually discovered the deep business ties between Thornsbury and Fletcher. When DBC, Inc., publicly revealed those ties in a court filing, Thornsbury was forced to abandon his plan to use the grand jury against R.W.

Several years later, in 2012, R.W. was involved in an argument outside a convenience store with two other men. One of the men took a swing at R.W., and the other one drew a gun. The police were called, and the two other men were charged with assault.

Nearly a month after the altercation, however, the charges against the two other men were dismissed and R.W. was charged with assault and battery. Thornsbury, through a messenger, told the county prosecutor to ensure that R.W. received a sentence of six months' confinement, an extraordinarily harsh punishment even if R.W. had been guilty. Prosecutors in turn offered R.W. a plea agreement that would have confined him for six months. R.W. refused it, and on the eve of trial, the prosecutor dismissed the case, stating that after reviewing the evidence against R.W., he believed the prosecution was not in the interest of justice.

The indictment charges Thornsbury with conspiring to violate R.W.'s right against unreasonable arrest, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and his right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process of law, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The indictment also charges that Thornsbury conspired against the companies targeted by the purported grand jury subpoena, specifically, against their Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of their property without due process of law.

Thornsbury, 57, has served as Mingo County's sole circuit judge since 1997.

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Also Thursday, the West Virginia State Police announced that the trooper who allegedly participated in misconduct associated with the Thornsbury investigation had been placed on paid administrative leave.

Following is the full release from the West Virginia State Police:

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed today alleges that a member of the West Virginia State Police engaged in official misconduct at the behest of Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury. The West Virginia State Police has been aware of the allegations involving the Trooper in question and is participating in the investigation of public corruption in Mingo County, but in order to avoid jeopardizing the federal investigation, no administrative action has been taken with regard to the Trooper until now.

In light of the indictment unsealed today, the West Virginia State Police has initiated a parallel internal investigation into the Trooper's conduct.

In accordance with the standard procedures that govern the West Virginia State Police by code and by legislative rule in handling employee misconduct, the Trooper has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation. Also, in accordance with these procedures, the West Virginia State Police is not in a position to release the name of the Trooper at this time.

"The West Virginia State Police has a proud tradition of serving the citizens of West Virginia with honor and distinction. The agency's integrity is of the upmost importance not only to me, but to the people we serve. We continually strive to maintain the confidence and respect of the public and have strict policies and procedures in place to investigate and deal with allegations of misconduct. Our administrative process is completely independent of the criminal process, not only in terms of the investigation itself, but also in terms of any potential outcomes. I have faith that this established process will serve the best interest of the public, the West Virginia State Police, and more importantly, justice itself." Colonel C. R. "Jay" Smithers – Superintendent, West Virginia State Police.

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Earlier Thursday -- in an unrelated case -- County Commissioner Dave Baisden was arrested and charged in an unrelated indictment with misusing his public office. Prosecutors say he tried to extort a Williamson tire dealer, terminating a contract when it refused to cooperate.

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