A former West Virginia judge is facing up to ten years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges that he conspired to protect a county sheriff from allegations of drug-related activity.
Former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, pleaded guilty on October 2, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, and will be sentenced in January 2014. He resigned from his elected post the same day and consented to voluntary disbarment in a letter to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Thornsbury was charged with conspiring with Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum and other officials to offer a lighter sentence to a defendant from whom Crum had bought drugs and owed a $3,000 debt for campaign signs. According to federal prosecutors, that defendant, George White, is now serving a 1-to-15-year sentence imposed by Thornsbury, who offered a more lenient sentence if White would fire his attorney and hire another one preferred by the judge. The offer was intended to silence White’s lawyer, who was providing information about Sheriff Crum to federal investigators and the news media.
“For a judge to violate someone’s constitutional rights is really beyond the pale,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “But to violate someone’s rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation, that’s really unthinkable. Elected officials shouldn’t be treated differently than anyone else.”