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Judge accused of conspiracy against romantic rival pleads not guilty

By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley and Kristina Sgueglia, CNN
updated 2:37 PM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Thornsbury, 57, is arraigned on two counts of conspiracy against rights
  • He's accused of plotting against his secretary's husband over a 5-year period
  • Indictment: Plot included drug plant attempt, bogus theft charges, groundless arrest
  • His trial date was set for October 15, and he was released on a $10,000 bond

(CNN) -- A West Virginia state judge pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy charges Wednesday for allegedly plotting to frame his secretary's husband in crimes, after the secretary broke off an affair with the judge.

Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, was arraigned Wednesday on two counts of conspiracy against rights, according to a federal indictment based on grand jury findings.

According to allegations in federal documents unsealed last Thursday, the alleged five-year vendetta included plotting to plant drugs under the husband's car, recruiting a state trooper to arrest the man on bogus theft charges, and persuading a police officer to arrest him on groundless assault and battery charges, the documents say.

"Judge Thornsbury set off on a campaign to persecute his secretary's husband, his romantic rival. In the process he corrupted the system of Justice in Mingo County for his own nefarious purposes," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.

His trial date was set for October 15, and he was released on a $10,000 bond.

Thornsbury's attorney, Stephen Jory, declined to comment on the charges.

Thornsbury, who had "engaged in intimate physical contact" with his secretary, according to the indictment, asked her to leave her husband in 2008. She refused.

Michael Callahan, who represents the secretary and her husband, on Friday called the incidents that led up to the indictment a "terrible abuse of a public office."

Callahan represented the husband in two criminal cases allegedly conjured up by Thornsbury. The charges were dismissed in both cases.

"I represent both RW and KW as they begin the process of putting their lives back together and seek their own justice. At this time, my clients are unwilling to make any public statements or do any interviews," Callahan said in a statement to CNN.

The secretary and her husband were identified in the indictment only by their initials, K.W. and R.W., respectively.

West Virginia state judge faces federal conspiracy charges

When the federal charges against Thornsbury were announced, West Virginia's highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeals, voted to suspend the judge without pay, and also voted to suspend his law license, according to an official news release from the high court.

According to the indictment, the conspiracy charges stem from three alleged incidents:

• In 2008, Thornsbury allegedly tried to have a friend plant illegal drugs in a metal box under the husband's pickup truck. The friend agreed to do it but never went through with it, according to the indictment. As part of the scheme, the judge had "purposely cultivated a relationship" with a state trooper, apparently to have the trooper investigate after the drug plant was done, according to the indictment.

• Thornsbury "repeatedly insisted" that the same state trooper get an arrest warrant for the husband, for supposedly stealing "scrap mine bits" from the coal company where he worked and selling them. The husband was subsequently arrested, but charges were dismissed. Callahan, the attorney for the husband, said not only did the man have permission to take and sell the scrap bits that were "refurbished," then sold back to his company, the company approved of the practice.

• Thornsbury allegedly seized upon an argument between the husband and some of his relatives to cause the arrest of the husband a month after the argument. A family dispute in 2012 led to one of the husband's relatives pulling a gun outside a convenience store, according to the indictment. The husband called police, and even though investigating officers saw a store videotape of the incident and they concluded the relative was the aggressor, Thornsbury allegedly persuaded another officer to arrest the husband weeks later on charges of assault and battery. Charges were later dismissed.

Thornsbury has been Mingo County's sole circuit judge since 1997, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Thornsbury was first appointed to the state bench by the then-governor to fill a vacancy 1997, according to Jennifer Bundy, public information officer for the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

Thornsbury subsequently was elected to serve as circuit judge.

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