By Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — Another lawsuit related to the Mingo County corruption investigation has been filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
David Heath Ellis, individually, and Devco Building and Construction Inc., a West Virginia corporation, filed suit Tuesday against former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, former emergency services director Jarrod Fletcher and former West Virginia State Police Trooper Brandon Moore. Fletcher served as foreman of a Mingo County grand jury during the time dovered by the complaint.
Thornsbury is currently serving time at a federal prison camp as a result of pleading guilty to corruption in federal court. Fletcher is the Mingo jury foreman who allegedly conspired with Thornsbury on various matters. Moore has also been named in federal informations regarding the corruption schemes. Ellis’ lawsuit says Moore was forced to resign from his position with the state police during the course of the investigation.
The civil suit was filed by Charleston attorney Richard Neely and Williamson lawyer Letitia Chafin.
They allege that all acts committed by the defendants were under color of law, since all were public officials.
The complaint alleges that on or about March 5, 2009, the defendants conspired “to deprive plaintiff of his civil rights by causing a totally frivolous subpoena to be served” on Ellis, Devco Building and Construction Inc., Hampden Coal Company and the managers of Hampden Coal.
According to the complaint, Ellis and his company (Devco) had contracts with Hampden Coal with gross billings of $100,000 per month. The complaint says the defendants were using the bogus subpoena “to shore up their frivolous efforts to indict Robert Woodruff and frighten management of Hampden Coal … into complicity with an allegation that … Woodruff was guilty of grand larceny.” Robert Woodruff is Ellis’s uncle.
Part of the early corruption investigation found that Robert Woodruff apparently was an object of Thornsbury’s attempts to frame him. Allegations are that Thornsbury wanted to jail Woodruff because of a romantic relationship the judge had carried on with Woodruff’s wife. Kim Woodruff had served as the judge’s secretary. Allegedly, Moore and others conspired with Thornsbury to send Robert Woodruff to prison. Both Robert and Kim Woodruff deny that an affair was ever carried on by the judge and his secretary.
The complaint further maintains that Fletcher was serving “illegally as foreman of the grand jury.” The suit makes the argument that Fletcher was “prohibited … by law because he was at the same time an agent of the state.” It was Fletcher, as jury foreman, who signed the subpoena at issue.
The complaint says Moore “paraded around the Hampden Coal headquarters in a deliberate effort to make the officers and employees uncomfortable and to interfere with Hampden Coal’s relationship with the plaintiffs.” The suit says this situation follows a pattern involving Thornsbury, Fletcher and Moore. It notes Thornsbury’s federal conviction and says Moore and Fletcher “have been given immunity in return for testimony against … Thornsbury.”
The attorneys go on to argue that the subpoena against their client has never been dismissed or quashed, although a motion to do so is pending. Nor, they say, was the subpoena ever enforced. Nevertheless, they point out, their client was the subject of repeated rumors and gossip in the area alleging illegal conduct. The suit also says Thornsbury intentionally refused to allow delays in the process, although Ellis made motions pointing out that his attorney was H. Truman Chafin, then majority leader of the state Senate. Chafin was in Charleston in legislative sessions and unable to file responses, Ellis maintains.
“(Ellis) was unaware that he was part and parcel of a much wider conspiracy to seduce the wife of his uncle, Robert Woodruff, until August 2013, when the U.S. Attorney … uncovered the circumstances of Robert Woodruff’s illegal arrest and frivolous prosecution.”
Because of the pressure and publicity, Hampden Coal stopped doing business with Ellis or his company, the filing argues. The coal company, they say, “became fearful that they were on the wrong side in (the) Mingo County political structure.”
The suit lists count one of the complaint as “deprivation of civil rights under color of state law.” Count two is listed as libel; and count three is negligence.
The suit does not ask for a specific dollar amount but does demand a trial by jury. It asks for just compensation for Ellis.