Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was arrested Thursday after federal authorities allege he targeted his ex-lover’s husband, using his position on the bench to manipulate criminal charges against the man.
The indictment returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Charleston charges Thornsbury with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband, identified in the indictment as R.W.
Prosecutors allege Thornsbury, the county’s only circuit judge, put his business partner in charge of a Mingo grand jury, plotted to plant drugs on R.W. and tried to get the man sent to jail.
Thornsbury surrendered himself to authorities shortly after noon in Charleston, according to a source close to the investigation.
Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden was also arrested Thursday and charged with attempted extortion in an unrelated federal indictment.
An indictment means that grand jurors have decided that enough evidence exists to warrant a criminal trial.
Thornsbury, 57, of Williamson, has served as circuit judge since 1997. He allegedly began a relationship with his secretary, identified in the indictment as K.W., in early 2008.
After K.W. broke off the relationship in June of that year, prosecutors say, Thornsbury asked a unnamed co-conspirator to plant drugs underneath R.W.’s pickup truck. The judge had allegedly made plans for police to pull R.W. over and conduct a search.
The co-conspirator backed out at the last minute, prosecutors say.
The indictment also alleges Thornsbury enlisted State Police Trooper Brandon Moore, who worked in the Williamson detachment, to file a criminal complaint against R.W. accusing him of stealing scrap metal from his employer.
R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where mined coal was processed before being shipped. There, he removed scrap metal that had fallen in with the coal.
When Thornsbury found that R.W.’s supervisors allowed him to salvage drill bits, among other scraps, which can be repurposed, he allegedly persuaded Moore to file a criminal complaint against him.
Moore – who was named West Virginia State Police “Trooper of the Year” in 2010 — resisted at first because he knew R.W.’s bosses allowed him to take the metal, according to prosecutors. But the trooper eventually gave in to the judge and filed the complaint, the indictment alleges.
R.W. was arrested and charged with grand larceny in December 2008. The outcome of those charges was not immediately clear.
Prosecutors also identified one of Thornsbury’s business partners as part of the conspiracy.
In January 2009, Thornsbury chose Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County’s director of homeland security and emergency management, to be the foreman of a new grand jury.
Fletcher owned a commercial real estate business and a wine shop with Thornsbury. The two were also joint debtors on $1.8 million in business loans.
The business relationship between Thornsbury and Fletcher was not widely known, however, and Thornsbury did not disclose it when he made Fletcher the grand jury foreperson, prosecutors say.
With Fletcher in charge of the grand jury, Thornsbury was allegedly able to secretly sway the jury’s authority and use it to victimize R.W.
The judge allegedly created a set of self-styled subpoenas, which Fletcher signed, ordering R.W.’s employer and various other local companies to surrender private documents concerning R.W., the indictment alleges.
While most companies handed over the documents, one of the companies, identified as DBC Inc. in the indictment, requested more time to respond.
Thornsbury entered an order denying that request. But DBC waged a legal battle against the subpoena and eventually discovered the business ties between the judge and Fletcher, which the company revealed in a court filing, prosecutors say.
That forced Thornsbury to abandon his plan to use the grand jury against R.W., prosecutors claim. But that didn’t stop the judge from trying to harass R.W., prosecutors allege.
Last year, R.W. was involved in an altercation with two men at a convenience store. One of the men swung at R.W. and the other pulled a gun. The two men were arrested and charged with assault.
But about a month later, the charges against those two men were dismissed, and, instead, R.W. was charged with assault and battery.
Thornsbury allegedly had a “messenger” tell the county prosecutor to make sure R.W. received six months in jail for the misdemeanor charge — “an extraordinarily harsh punishment even if R.W. had been guilty,” according to prosecutors.
R.W. refused to take a deal offered by prosecutors that would have jailed him for six months for the charge. And on the eve of his trial date, a prosecutor ended up dismissing the case, because he believed the prosecution was not in the interest of justice, prosecutors say.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Police conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby is in charge of the prosecution.
Thornsbury graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law and then worked as an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County from 1981 to 1983. He then ran his own civil and criminal law practice in Williamson.
He ran for the House of Delegates in 1988, as part of what he said was a movement to clean up Mingo County politics.
“It’s up to the people this time,” Thornsbury told The Associated Press at the time. “They can choose the old way, or they can take the best opportunity they’ve had to vote good, honest candidates into office.”
Thornsbury lost that bid for House, and a second try for the post two years later. Then in January 1997, Thornsbury was appointed to the Mingo Circuit Court bench by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton to replace Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard, who had won a state Supreme Court seat the previous November.
A decade later, in 2008, Maynard lost his bid for re-election to the Supreme Court after photographs surfaced of him vacationing on the French Riviera with Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. At the time, an appeal of a $50 million verdict against Massey was heading for the high court.
The following year, in August 2009, Thornsbury was ordered by the state Supreme Court to step down from hearing a major coal-slurry pollution case against Massey.
Thornsbury had refused to voluntary step aside in the case after lawyers for residents who were suing Massey alleged the judge frequently socialized with Blankenship. Thornsbury denied the allegations, saying that he had “no political or business ties with Mr. Blankenship” and that “social contact is limited to exchanging ordinary greetings.” The judge also denied allegations that he was using the case to help a business partner — a local doctor with ties to Massey — profit from a medical monitoring program being set up as part of the suit.
Among those who offered a sworn affidavit in support of Thornsbury’s version of events was then-Magistrate Eugene Crum, who was elected as Mingo County sheriff last year on an anti-drug platform, then was shot to death this April in downtown Williamson.
Lawyers for residents in the slurry case had alleged Thornsbury and Blankenship had lunch in April 2009, around the time of a key development in the slurry litigation at Starters, a restaurant near the courthouse. Crum said in his affidavit that he had lunch with Thornsbury that day, and that Blankenship was sitting two tables away.
Kevin Thompson, a lawyer for the residents, later outlined how Thornsbury had in 1985, while in private practice, defended Massey’s Rawl Sales subsidiary in a blasting damage case filed against the company by a dozen residents, including Raymond Fitch, who was also a plaintiff in the slurry lawsuit.
The second letter was enough to prompt then-Acting Chief Justice Robin Davis to sign an order removing Thornsbury from the case. Davis noted that an expert witness for the residents had reported that blasting activities by Massey could have been one cause of fractured underground strata that allowed slurry injected by the company to contaminate local drinking water.
Davis said the “temporal and geographical relationship between the prior matter and the allegations and defenses in the current litigation” warranted Thornsbury’s disqualification.
Staff writer Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report. Reach Kate White at kate.wh…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.