by Ron Gregory
How long must disgraced Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury remain in what one newspaper called the “comfy chair”? When will the main architect of the high crimes and misdemeanors loosely attributed to “Team Mingo” start the road back to ordinary society?
For those just climbing from beneath the rock, Thornsbury once ruled Mingo County with an iron hand. He was clearly the most powerful man around, doling out jobs, sentences, orders and commands. The reign ended when, in 2014, Thornsbury pleaded guilty after a federal investigation into corruption.
Although numerous allegations were made against the judge, he was sentenced to four years and two months in a federal facility for being involved in a conspiracy to have his former secretary’s husband incarcerated.
Depending upon whose version you believe, the judge had either been having an affair with the secretary that she broke off or he had pursued her to no avail. Regardless, the charges were that Thornsbury orchestrated an elaborate scheme to put the secretary’s husband behind bars. That, his honor apparently reasoned, would fire things up romantically between him and the secretary. How a rational person could arrive at such logic is difficult to see, but evidently the judge thought eliminating his “competition” would bring the secretary around to him.
Along the way, the federal government made numerous allegations about illegal activities related to Mingo and the judge. Implicated in the secretary scheme, were such community stalwarts as the former West Virginia State Trooper of the Year and the Town of Gilbert’s Assistant Police Chief. To date, under the carefree watch of outgoing Prosecutor Teresa Maynard, nobody has been charged with a state crime in Mingo despite the federal government’s best efforts to outline numerous law-breaking activities.
After initially pleading,’ “absolutely not guilty” in Charleston federal district court, Thornsbury eventually entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to the previously mentioned four years and two months. The West Virginia Record vocally criticized the sentence, maintaining that the judge was headed to a more-or-less posh resort in Florida and, basically, got just a slap on the wrist for the reign of terror he orchestrated. They called it his “comfy chair.”
Now comes word from numerous sources that your friendly, local federal government is about to transfer Thornsbury to a halfway house in Lexington, Kentucky, just a step away from rejoining every day society.
I am not one who wishes jail time on anyone. As my friends and critics are aware, I knowingly admit missteps in my own life and the lives of many close to me. If any reader is still unaware of activities I have been accused of over the years, just contact Gilbert Town Councilman “Silent” Randy Livingood and he’ll be happy to fill you in. Randy, of course, earned the title “Silent” Randy when he hid from a Charleston Gazette reporter trying to ask him about the assistant police chief-Thornsbury connection.
But I digress. So, now Thornsbury is scheduled for a September or October transfer date to the halfway house in Lexington. He might, in fact, be “home” for the holidays.
While I wish nobody jail time, there are many in the Mingo community who agree with The Record’s assessment. One even mentioned former County Commissioner David Baisden, caught in the same corruption probe. Baisden was convicted of using his position to try to extort a better price on tires for his personal vehicle. “If they let Thornsbury out in September,” the person said, “he’ll end up spending less time behind bars than Dave did. That’s a crime itself.”
Some in a position to understand the situation have suggested a letter-writing campaign to federal court, asking that Thornsbury be made to serve his original sentence time. Some letters have apparently already been written but the likelihood of changing the court’s mind is not good.
So, Mingo may soon be graced again with the presence of the judge. While he is surely not going to be all-powerful as before, it will be interesting to watch what happens.
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Little explanation can change the evident facts in the mix-up of two Kanawha County House of Delegates districts. It is beyond dispute that about 500 voters were listed in the wrong district for at least five elections, primary and general. Apparently, the foul-up ended with this past May’s primary but the results are already in on that and the 2012 and 2014 election cycles.
It was a three-ring circus to watch the West Virginia legislature redistrict following the 2010 census. To say chaos abounded would be an understatement. If anybody knew for sure where any district line was being drawn, it tooks hours of research and determination in the so-called map room in the capitol basement.
Many errors have been laid at the feet of the state map maker at the time, Jo Vaughan, but I’m not sure Einstein could have done any better. Legislators were busily redesigning districts to their personal political advantage and I’m sure it was impossible for Vaughan to keep up.
She tried valliantly but I suspect much of the Kanawha error can be put at the feet of a legislature hell-bound to redistrict for political purposes.
Legislators actually spent hours examining maps, putting their zoom lenses on and figuring which corner to cut off for best personal political gain. It was a shameful display of greedy legislators who had no more interest in serving the overall needs of the people by forming cohesive districts. Political advantage was the name of the game.
The biggest obvious loser in the 35th-36th district mess is former newspaperman and Delegate Danny Wells. In 2014, Wells lost his spot in the 36th District by 20 votes to Delegate Nancy Guthrie. That the foul-up cost Wells votes and gained some for Guthrie is clear to any seasoned political veteran.
Wells likely also suffered in the 2016 primary, which he lost by 151 votes to newcomer Andrew Robinson. Again, knowing the geography suggests Robinson gained votes and Wells lost some. Of course, it is possible Wells benefitted in 2014 when he beat out incumbent Delegate Mark Hunt by 222 votes.
Of the candidates, none are to blame, of course, for the fiasco that has occurred. Votes cannot be taken from Guthrie or Robinson just because the district lines were incorrect for voting purposes. One can never really speculate about what voters MIGHT have done. The votes are already in the boxes and the tallies announced. There is no way to undo any wrong that was committed, vote-wise.
But County Clerk Vera McCormick is now aware of the problem and no doubt will correct any correctable errors. I’m confident there was no intention for any public official to do wrong here and certainly no “conspiracy.”
Still, it is another example of how elections often contain mistakes simply because of human error. Error in this case will now cause political junkies to deliberate what might have been.
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If Wells could somehow figure a way to work Richard Ojeda’s beating into his loss, he might well have a case for a three-person panel to declare him the winner.
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The ammunition plant announced for near Belle continues to draw interest from the (Charleston) Gazette-Mail. This past week, the paper had a story about names that have been dropped by principals in the ammo plant as they worked toward developing other locations. None of those plans ever panned out, by the way.
Many rich and famous people have been named by plant officials as supporters of previous projects. When contacted by the paper’s reporter, though, none seemed to know much — if anything — about why their names were involved.
As I said last time, it makes sense that any West Virginia official would turn flip-flops over plans to bring 400 jobs to this economically depressed state. But the credibility of this plant is becoming very difficult to locate.
In a conversation last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate and State Senate President Bill Cole told me it was changes the GOP-controlled legislature made in business enticements that lured the plant to the Mountain State.
But Cole stopped short of predicting anyone will ever see the facility near Belle. Although he didn’t say it, I suspect he is becoming more than a little skeptical himself.
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Finally, with the horrible flooding that devastated much of the state at week’s end, devastation at the Greenbrier Resort’s golf courses should not be the top story. However, it is sad to see the resort suffer such damage and calls into question the upcoming Greenbrier Classic event. Hopefully, it will move forward.
It needs to go forward if, for no other reason, there would be no place for the Burdette Family’s annual reunion to be held except in the box at the Classic. If Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette is forced to look for another location for his family gathering, it will be tough news indeed.
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Your comments, story ideas, gossip and suggestions of a “comfy chair” for Judge Thornsbury to land in are always welcome. Use my listed email address or call my cell,304-533-5185.