Our Opinion

January 29, 2014

A second judge for West Virginia’s 30th Judicial Circuit, as recently proposed by state Sen. H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, is an idea whose time we think has come.

In sponsoring a bill introduced last week in the state Senate, Chafin cited the “watchdog effect” that having two circuit judges could have in preventing political corruption like the federal charges that resulted in Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury being forced to resign from the bench to be replaced by an interim circuit judge.

And we agree.

When the citizens of a county can’t expect justice from their courts, it is time to take extraordinary measures to prevent it from happening again. It is not enough to merely force a corrupt judge to step down, take his law license and convict him of crimes he has committed.

The people of Mingo County need to know that it won’t happen again, and having two judges who can keep an eye on each other’s cases for signs of potential judicial misconduct would be a welcome step in the right direction.

As Chafin said when he introduced the bill to create a second judgeship in the 30th circuit, “Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us fairly and impartially.

“There has been a complete breakdown of the judiciary system with MIchael Thornsbury sitting as the only judge in Mingo County,” the senator added.

If the citizens of Mingo County can’t trust their justice system to be fair and impartial, then who can they trust?

Not only did Thornsbury turn a blind eye to the political shenanigans that were going on under his nose, he was the leader, or one of the leaders, of a Democratic faction known as “Team Mingo,” and, as such became involved in various crimes, including acts of political corruption and attempts to cover them up.

Several officeholders representing that faction have been indicted on numerous federal charges and have been convicted, or are awaiting conviction, on those charges.

“Unfortunately,” Chafin said, Thornsbury and other officeholders who were members of Team Mingo, “failed to respect and honor their positions of trust.”

Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, agrees with Chafin.

“Corruption is the biggest threat to democracy, and corruption was an epidemic in Mingo County,” Goodwin said.

In fact, creation of a second judgeship for the 30th Judicial Circuit is an idea whose time is overdue, as far as we’re concerned.

This is the second time Chafin has introduced a bill that would have put a second judge on the bench in the 30th Judicial Circuit.

The first time he introduced the bill, it was passed by the state Senate, only to be defeated in the House of Delegates.

The bill should be a slam-dunk simply from the perspective of fairness and caseload distribution, as Chafin has contended before.

Four of five judicial circuits bordering on the 30th have two judges, and three of those circuits consist of a single county, as does the 30th, including one, McDowell County, which has nearly 5,000 fewer residents, according to the latest available population estimates.

Any way you look at it, it seems that a bill to expand the number of judges in the 30th Judicial Circuit from one to two is an idea whose time is long overdue.

This time, not only the state Senate, but the House of Delegates, should pass this bill and the governor should sign it into law.

Anything less would be a license for the kind of political corruption that has occurred in Mingo County to persist.