June 3, 2014
By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON - “Crooked officeholders in this district apparently need to see harsher consequences before they will ever respect the law,” said U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II.
“For brevity’s sake, the United States will simply note here that past prison sentences have proven insufficient to deter public corruption in Mingo County and Southern West Virginia,” Booth said. “In light of the exceptional circumstances explained in this memorandum, the United States respectfully submits that only a very substantial term of imprisonment will satisfy.”
These words were included in the United States Sentencing Memorandum released by Goodwin in the case of former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who is scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court on Monday at 1:30 p.m. on federal charges.
“This is an exceptional case, to say the least,” Goodwin said. “The defendant was a judge - his county’s only judge, in fact - sworn to support the Constitution of the United States. Yet he helped coerce a local criminal defendant, an unsophisticated, 65-year-old disabled miner, into firing his attorney and abandoning his defenses because those defenses would have damaged the dominant position of the defendant’s political faction and would have likely triggered an investigation of a key ally.
“The defendant possessed enormous power over Mingo County’s court system, its political system, its bar, and the county as a whole. Even more important, as a judge, the defendant bore a singular responsibility to uphold the rule of law,” Goodwin said. “By railroading a defendant in his court to further his own political interests, the defendant has done damage to the legitimacy of Mingo County’s judicial system that will take decades to repair.”
Thornsbury entered a guilty plea to charges of conspiring to violate the rights of a defendant (George White) to his choice of counsel in October 2013, in exchange for the U.S. Attorney’s office agreeing not to pursue charges of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of the husband of his alleged mistress, who served as his secretary for several years.
Attorney Stephen Jory, of the law firm of McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, represents Thornsbury, and filed his recommendations for sentencing earlier this week. Needless to say, it is the exact opposite of that filed by Goodwin.
Jory claims that because of Thornsbury’s background, including the judicial position he held for 17 years and his lifetime of “exemplary service” to his community, the impact of this conviction upon him has been overwhelming. Examples of that impact, according to Jory, include the following:
* Becoming a convicted felon: In swift succession, Thornsbury has gone from being a “respected judge” to being a “convicted felon”… from holding the lives of others in his hands, to having no control over his own immediate future.
* Loss of civil liberties: As a felon, the defendant has lost his liberty, his right to vote, his right to sit on a jury, his right to hold public office, his loss to participate in the political process and his right to possess a firearm.
* Divorce: The memorandum states that Thornsbury’s wife divorced him immediately following his conviction.
* Disbarment: Having committed a felony and ethical breach, the defendant has lost his license to practice law.
* Judicial resignation/removal: After serving 17 years as a judge, the defendant allowed his loyalty to his lifelong friend, former Sheriff Eugene Crum, who was also a member of the same political faction, to override his loyalty to his oath and the citizens of Mingo County. He has resigned in disgrace.
* Retirement: As a public official who has committed a felon, Thornsbury has lost his pension. As a 57-year-old felon, his sole future income will very likely be from insignificant jobs and social security.
* Respect: According to the defense attorney, “loss of respect” is too mild a phrase to describe the way that Thornsbury is now regarded within his community and the state, and says that for the last nine months, the former judge has spent his days effectively imprisoned in a small apartment in Williamson.
Jory states that being cognizant of the crime that he has committed and “the need to atone for his conduct,” the defendant is said to have cooperated with the government and provided substantial assistance which led to the convictions of other individuals. He has made numerous trips to Charleston where he met with government lawyers and investigative interest. He also provided information used by the government at a previous sentencing hearing.
The defense attorney also requests that if his client receives a prison sentence, that he be allowed to serve his time at the minimum-security federal prisons in either Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala., and that he be permitted to self-report.
“The facts recounted in this case largely speak for themselves with respect to the sort of sentence needed in this case,” Goodwin said.
“A review of the sentencing factors confirms that a lengthy term of imprisonment is in order, and is one that reflects the seriousness of the offense and affords adequate deterrence to his criminal conduct,” the U.S. Attorney said.
Thornsbury faces a possible prison sentence of 33-37 months, but that term is apt to change, based on the presiding judge’s final order.