WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) — Even in southern West Virginia, where corruption is as much as a part of life as coal, people are shocked by allegations that a judge commandeered the legal system in a years-long attempt to frame a romantic rival for crimes he didn't commit.
Federal prosecutors indicted Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury on two counts of conspiracy Thursday, just hours after indicting County Commissioner Dave Baisden on extortion charges. Thornsbury attorney Steve Jory declined comment while Baisden's attorney did not return messages.
The state Supreme Court has suspended Thornsbury and his law license, and a replacement judge took over his caseload Friday.
Thornsbury is set to appear in federal court in Charleston at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, he's been ordered to surrender his passport, to give up any weapons and to avoid contact with dozens of potential witnesses, including another judge, county officials, five state troopers and prominent multimillionaire industrialist James "Buck" Harless.
Both Thornsbury and Baisden are free on $10,000 bond while awaiting trial, but the indictments were painful news in a community still reeling from the assassination of its sheriff in April.
"It's hard for me to believe, because I personally know the judge. I know him as a personal friend. I've been to his home. I know his kids," said Williamson minister Butch Gregory.
Gregory's wife, Louise, hired Thornsbury as her lawyer long before he became the county's only judge in 1997.
"As a married man, he should have known better," she said. "I don't really trust nobody out here anymore."
The indictment says Thornsbury tried between 2008 and 2012 to frame Robert Woodruff for crimes including drug possession, larceny and assault. The 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.