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West Virginia judge implicated in conspiracy against rival

August 15, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Mingo County, W.Va., Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury stands in a stairwell of the Mingo County Courthouse in Williamson, in a 2004 photo.
Mingo County, W.Va., Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury stands in… (Chris Dorst / Associated…)

A local West Virginia judge has been federally indicted on suspicion of using his bench to illegally frame the husband of his secretary, with whom he'd been having an affair, officials said Thursday.

These are tough times for the political leadership of Mingo County, W.Va., which saw Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury indicted for conspiracy and manipulating a local grand jury on the same day the county's commissioner, David Baisden, was indicted for trying to extort a local tire shop.

The allegations come just a few months after Mingo County's sheriff was shot dead in broad daylight.

Thornsbury, 57, has served as Mingo County’s sole circuit judge since 1997, federal officials said.

In 2008, when his alleged affair with his secretary fell apart after a few months, the judge is accused of plotting against her husband, identified in the indictment as R.W.

At one point, the judge invited a friend into his chambers, where he showed the friend a magnetic box containing drugs the judge wanted planted on R.W.'s truck, the indictment alleges. The friend backed out, it says.

Thornsbury later told a state trooper to investigate R.W. for allegedly stealing scrap metal from his own workplace, the indictment stated. The trooper balked, but Thornsbury insisted he file charges for larceny, which the trooper did, according to the indictment.

Thornsbury, directing the grand jury, then appointed a business associate to act as foreman, and used the grand jury to issue subpoenas to local companies, the indictment states. The scheme ultimately collapsed in 2009 after the local prosecutor discovered the judge's romantic connection and a company challenged the subpoena, federal officials said.

The judge also pushed for heavy jail time after R.W. was investigated for a possible assault in 2012, but the prosecutor, Michael Sparks, instead decided to drop the charges, the indictment stated.

Thornsbury was arrested Thursday after surrendering to authorities in Charleston, the Charleston Gazette reported. He was released on $10,000 bond after an initial appearance in federal court, according to the paper.

Read the indictment against Thornsbury here.

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