By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON - During the sentencing hearing of former Mingo County circuit judge Michael Thornsbury in U.S. District Court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin all had one thing in common; that being their blatant criticism of Thornsbury’s past behavior.
“Mr. Thornsbury’s conduct was shocking and appalling,” said Goodwin. “It was worthy of a stiff sentence. I’d like to see this whole episode be a call to action for all of us to make sure that this ‘Boss Hogg’ style of politics is a thing of the past - because it simply can’t be a part of our future.”
Thornsbury, who served as Mingo County’s only circuit judge for 17 years, pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to deprive a man of his constitutional rights in order to protect a political ally.
To protect Mingo County’s sheriff, Eugene Crum, Thornsbury is said to have gone along with a plan to keep defendant George White from providing federal investigators with information that White had sold prescription pills to Crum, after the sheriff had him indicted on drug-related charges. Crum allegedly owed White $3,000 for campaign signs and materials he had purchased during the 2012 election, and rather than to honor his debt, is said to have had him arrested.
White retained Charles “Butch” West as his attorney following his arrest. West planned to present evidence and testimony that Crum had arrested White over the money that was owed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby told Johnston on Monday that, in all reality, White had a “winnable defense,” and said he “probably would have been set free.” That, however; was not the case.
After Crum became privy to what White planned to tell the feds about him, former county commissioner David Baisden and former prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks were reportedly called upon to help devise a scheme to get White to switch attorneys in exchange for a lighter sentence from Thornsbury, according to federal prosecutors.
Thornsbury went along with the plan that he said was presented to him by Crum, and then proceeded to sentence White to up to 15 years in prison. White said in court that he had been told he could have faced up to 40 years in prison if he didn’t sign the agreement, but was promised only 30 days behind bars and up to six months home confinement, but said “they didn’t give me what they said they’d give me.”
White spent about 240 days in jail before Senior Status Circuit Judge John Cummings, who was appointed to fill in for Thornsbury, vacated White’s conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice earlier this year. White spoke of his failing health and a heart condition that had taken a turn for the worse while behind bars.
White was allowed to deliver a victim impact statement during the hearing, and all eyes were on the disabled coal miner as he spoke of fearing for his life, and of the threats he had received since being released from prison after the case came under federal investigation.
“There’s three laws in West Virginia,” White, 65, said to Johnston. “Federal law, state law and Mingo County law - and Mingo County law, I fear a whole lot more than federal or state - because anything is possible under that law.”
Johnston also spoke of Thornsbury’s attempts to frame Robert Woodruff, the husband of his secretary (Kim Woodruff) who at one time had been his mistress, because he believed if her spouse was out of the picture she would be forced, if for no other reason than finacial need, to rekindle the romance.
Prosecutors said that after Thornsbury set his sights on his secretary and decided to claim her as his own, he put his business partner in charge of a Mingo grand jury as foreman, plotted to have another close friend plant drugs on Woodruff, and tried to get him sent to jail with the help of a former West Virginia State Police trooper.
The judge stated that when Thornsbury set his mind on resuming the romantic relationship with Kim Woodruff, the ex-judge abused his power to “destroy” and “persecute” Kims’ husband.
“The court system in Mingo County no longer existed for him. You made it a malevolent force bent on his destruction. Where could he go? To him, liberty ended. The Constitution became a dead letter for him,” Johnston said.
“You corruptly contorted the justice system into a weapon to be wielded against a romantic rival. That is the kind of thing one might expect, though still condemn, in the regime of some Third World dictator. It is an ugly insult to the United States Constitution,” the judge said.
To date, numerous civil suits have been filed against Thornsbury, including those by George White, Robert Woodruff and Kim Woodruff, Mingo Magistrate Dee Sidebottom and former magistrate clerk Candace Harper. Several of these lawsuits also name various other state agencies as respondents, as well as individuals.