CHARLESTON (AP) — A state commission took its first step this week in the process of finding a more permanent replacement for disgraced former Mingo Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury.
The state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission is slated to have an organizational meeting this afternoon to discuss the process for filling the seat Thornsbury resigned in early October.
At the time the only judge for the 30th judicial circuit, Thornsbury stepped down Oct. 2. His resignation came shortly before he admitted guilt for his role in a larger scheme to try and thwart an FBI investigation into alleged drug activity by slain sheriff Eugene Crum.
Thornsbury is scheduled for sentencing in January.
The state Supreme Court suspended Thornsbury in August after a different set of federal charges accused him of repeatedly corrupting the judicial system in attempts to frame the husband of an ex-lover.
The high court appointed senior status judges John Cummings and Thomas McHugh to handle the circuit court caseload immediately after suspending Thornsbury. But state law requires Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin pick a replacement in the event a judge resigns.
The commission is scheduled for a 2 p.m. conference call. The commission will establish deadlines for submitting applications and letters of recommendation, and set interview dates, said a spokeswoman for the governor.
The state Legislature created the judicial vacancy advisory commission in 2010 after some officials, including Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, criticized the judicial appointment process at the time.
In particular, the appointment of then-Delegate Carrie Webster to replace Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Irene Berger in 2009 was scrutinized for an alleged lack of transparency, according to Daily Mail archives.
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Webster, but his office at one point declined to make public applications and letters of recommendation submitted by candidates for the job, according to Daily Mail archives.
The commission is supposed to consist of four attorneys and more non-attorney members. The governor or a representative, the president of the state bar and the dean of the West Virginia University College of Law also serve as ex officio members.
A different Tomblin spokeswoman provided the names of 10 commission members: Chairwoman Debra Scudiere, a private attorney based in Morgantown; general counsel for the governor’s office Peter Markham; WVU law school Dean Joyce McConnell; state bar President Harry Deitzler; Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper; former House of Delegates Minority Leader Charles Trump; Huntington businessman Doug Hardman; West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue; and Wheeling businessman Don Wagenheim.
The commission must submit two to five names of potential judges to the governor for review. They must submit the names within 90 days of the vacancy, according to state law.
Any applications or letters of recommendation must be made available to the public. The list of applicants eventually sent to the governor is also public information, according to state law.
The person appointed to the position fills the remainder of the vacated judge’s term. Last elected in 2008, Thornsbury was up for re-election in 2016. At that point, the person picked as the replacement must run for re-election if he or she wants to retain the bench.
At least one Mingo County attorney, Charles “Butch” West, has publicly voiced interest in the seat.
West initially represented George White. White is the man Thornsbury and other Mingo County officials reportedly conspired against in order to try and prevent him speaking about Crum to the FBI.