White-Collar Crime

Feds seek 'very substantial' sentence for corrupt judge who had 'enormous power' in his county


Federal prosecutors are seeking a “very substantial” prison sentence for a former West Virginia judge, arguing that the guideline sentence for the crime to which he pleaded guilty isn’t sufficient to send a message that will deter others.

Former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate a defendant’s constitutional right to counsel. In exchange, the feds dropped charges that he had conspired to frame a romantic rival for fake crimes.

In a presentencing memorandum in the Charleston case, U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II cited Thornsbury’s “enormous power” over Mingo County’s courts, bar and political system and said sentences in prior southern West Virginia cases had “proven insufficient” to deter public corruption, the Williamson Daily News reported.

“This is an exceptional case, to say the least,” Goodwin wrote. “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.”

Attorney Stephen Jory of McNeer Highland McMunn and Varner represents Thornsbury and is asking that his prison term, if any, be served in a minimum-security facility.

Jory pointed to his client’s cooperation with prosecutors and said the former judge has already suffered a stunning downfall, including being divorced by his wife, loss of a leadership role and respect in his community and the loss of his government pension, which likely means the 57-year-old convicted felon will have to subsist on Social Security and odd jobs in his declining years, the newspaper reports.

Thornsbury’s sentencing is scheduled for Monday. Sentencing guidelines call for him to get between 33 and 37 months.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Embattled judge takes conspiracy plea, resigns from bench and agrees to disbarment”

ABAJournal.com: “County prosecutor is charged, resigns, but claims credit for judge’s plea in related corruption case”

ABAJournal.com: “3 lawyers probed in ethics case after county judge, prosecutor and magistrate are federally charged”

Charleston Daily Mail: “Ex-Mingo judge accused of harassing clerk after she learned of his affair”

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