Legal Ethics

Should county prosecutor have done more to rein in now-indicted judge?


You’re the county prosecutor. A local judge is trying to frame a romantic rival for crimes that the man not only didn’t commit but which didn’t occur. What do you do?

No, this is not a law school exam problem or the plot of a fictional legal thriller. It’s the alleged fact pattern at issue in a legal ethics probe underway against a West Virginia attorney, following the federal indictment of now-suspended Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, the Charleston Gazette reports.

The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel confirmed that it is investigating Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks, but not the subject of the investigation. However, Sparks himself told the newspaper that allegations in the judge’s indictment concerning the prosecutor’s own conduct—even though he eventually dismissed the case against the judge’s romantic rival—prompted the ethics probe.

Sparks said he suspected, but did not know for a fact, that the judge was having the affair that is claimed by federal authorities to have motivated the judge to set up the woman’s husband. Hence, the prosecutor did not put himself in a position where he would in future have to try cases in front of a “very vindictive” jurist whom he’d reported to authorities for possible misconduct that might remain unproven, the newspaper reports. Sparks did cooperate with federal authorities investigating the judge, he notes.

“Perhaps it was an error that I didn’t report it, but I didn’t think I could prove it,” he said of the claimed affair. “I would hope that they will take into consideration the unique circumstances of my situation and any other member of the Mingo County Bar. I’m not the only member of the Mingo County Bar that was aware of his misconduct.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge indicted; feds say he tried to frame romantic rival for fake crimes”

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