Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 21, 2013

Mingo County prosecutor defends failure to report judge

Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks is defending his failure to report the conduct of a judge who now faces federal charges.

Sparks said that he was working in what he called an intimidating environment.

“You stop things, but you got to have more than (rumors), you know — getting a judicial officer fired, it’s difficult,” Sparks said.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury with two conspiracy counts. Thornsbury is accused of having an affair with his secretary and trying to frame her husband for several crimes, including drug possession, larceny and assault.

Authorities said none of the schemes panned out for Thornsbury.

Sparks recused himself from the larceny case. He knew of the affair and “recognized that the criminal charges against Woodruff were improper,” the indictment said. He also dismissed the assault charges.

“To some, I’m a hero, because I assisted and supported and provided a lot of information. To others, I only did it because I was in trouble, which is not true,” Sparks said.

He said that he wants to defend himself but that he doesn’t want to hinder the case against Thornsbury.

The State Bar’s rules of professional conduct require lawyers to report judicial misconduct that “raises a substantial question as to the judge’s fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority.”

State Bar President Harry Dietzler said that a prosecutor would want to be sure of the facts before accusing a judge of illegal conduct.

“The word substantial is an essential part of that analysis,” Deitzler told the newspaper.

“Keep in mind, if a prosecuting attorney brings charges against a judge in the attorney’s home county, that attorney is going to be very uncomfortable for the remainder of that judge’s tenure if the charges don’t stick,” Deitzler said. “It’s easy to reach a conclusion retrospectively, after the indictment is returned, but I don’t think the Mingo County prosecuting attorney had the level of detailed knowledge reflected in the indictment.”

Thornsbury, 57, was suspended by the state Supreme Court without pay following his right. The court also suspended his law license.

He remains free on bond and is scheduled to be arraigned Wednedsay.