By Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — When former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury appeals his federal court sentence in Richmond, Va., he apparently will not be joined by his lead defense attorney.
Lawyer Stephen Jory, who had represented the former judge during his agreement to a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Charleston, last week notified others involved in the case that he is withdrawing as defense counsel. Officials in the U.S. attorney’s office in Charleston would not comment on Jory’s decision. Thornsbury originally was sentenced to a 50-month prison term by U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston. He filed a notice of appeal a little more than a week ago.
Thornsbury had 10 months shaved off his sentence by Johnston after prosecutors told the judge Thornsbury had been instrumental in the prosecution of others involved in elaborate criminal enterprises in Mingo County.
Speculation Monday centered on the possibility that Thornsbury will represent himself during his appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. As a former judge, Thornsbury has a law degree himself but lost his license as part of his agreement to plead guilty to federal charges. Attorneys familiar with court practices and procedures said, however, that there is nothing to prevent the disgraced judge from representing himself.
Jory filed Thornsbury’s motion for an appeal before withdrawing as counsel. The defense attorney confirmed that he had filed the documents to withdraw from the case but has not discussed the matter further with members of the media. Jory is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of W.Va.
He had represented Thornsbury since the original corruption indictment in August 2013. In that indictment, the former judge was charged with various offenses related to a romantic relationship he is alleged to have carried on with his assistant. Later, the original indictment was dropped in favor of an information concerning what prosecutors claimed was his manipulation of a defendant in his court and the attorney he retained.
Thornsbury agreed as part of his plea agreement not to appeal his sentence. Nevertheless, the agreement allows him to appeal his sentence if it is outside the federal sentencing guidelines, which it is.
Another of Thornsbury’s attorneys, William Slicer, said discussions are ongoing as to whether his firm will represent Thornsbury. The firm, Schuman, McCuskey and Slicer represents the ex-judge in one of his cases.