The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

August 22, 2013

Mingo judge, commissioner plead not guilty

Commissioner’s purchasing duties nixed; sheriff’s widow to resign; official suspended

CHARLESTON — A Mingo County judge accused of having an affair with his secretary and trying to frame her husband for several crimes was arraigned Wednesday along with a county commissioner charged in a separate case.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury with two conspiracy counts.

Commissioner Dave Baisden, 66, was charged with extortion in an unrelated federal case. He’s accused of trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount, then terminating the county’s contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate.

Both were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwayne Tinsley and face separate October trials.

Before the hearing began, the defendants sat a row apart and quietly talked with one another and their lawyers.

“Absolutely not guilty,” Thornsbury said when asked by Tinsley how he pleaded.

The indictment says Thornsbury tried to frame Robert Woodruff between 2008 and 2012 for drug possession, larceny and assault. The married judge had been having an affair with his secretary — Woodruff’s wife, Kim — and he tried to eliminate the competition after she tried to break things off, it says.

The schemes involved a state trooper, the grand jury foreman and another man, but none of them panned out, the indictment said. Prosecutors say they won’t file charges against any of those people, but they are continuing to investigate corruption in the southern coalfields community where Thornsbury had been the only judge since 1997.

Thornsbury, 57, was suspended by the state Supreme Court without pay following his indictment. The court also suspended his law license. A replacement judge has taken over Thornsbury’s caseload.

Earlier Wednesday, the Mingo County Commission removed Baisden as the county’s purchasing agent. He will remain as a commissioner.

Outside the federal courthouse after the hearing, Baisden thanked his supporters for their thoughts and prayers.

“We’ll settle this in court,” he said.

Baisden previously was ordered not to discuss the case with any witnesses, including his fellow commissioners.

Thornsbury and Baisden remain free on bond.

Thornsbury’s trial was set for Oct. 15 before U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston. Baisden’s trial was scheduled for Oct. 21 before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver.

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Several personnel changes occurred at Wednesday’s meeting of the Mingo County Commission:

-- Commissioner Dave Baisden was removed as the county’s purchasing agent by the county commission. The move comes after he was indicted for extortion last week for allegedly abusing the position. He has not resigned as a commissioner.

-- Jarrod Fletcher, the county’s homeland security director, was suspended. Fletcher was mentioned in an indictment of Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury last week. Prosecutors say they won’t charge Fletcher but claim he helped Thornsbury try to frame the judge’s romantic rival.

-- The widow of slain Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, who was appointed to fill the job until a replacement is found, says she will resign Sept 4.

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