Following last week's indictment of Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, Mingo County Democrats Harry Keith White and Justin Marcum announced Monday they will push for an additional circuit judge position in the area.
Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, a political opponent of the delegates and Thorsnbury, has sponsored such legislation in the past. He said it's about time the others got on board.
"I am glad that members of Thornsbury's Team Mingo, who have fought me at every turn in my efforts to secure a second judge for our county, have now suddenly decided to issue a press release calling for a second judge after the federal indictment of the county's only judge," Chafin said Monday in an emailed statement.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Thornsbury on charges he corrupted the local legal system in his repeated attempts to frame the husband of an ex-lover. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges Thornsbury's transgressions took place in 2008-2009 and 2012.
Until his suspension late Thursday, he was the only circuit judge in the county, one of the few circuits in the state with only one judge.
White, recently appointed House majority leader, and Marcum said in a press release those allegations helped convince them it was time to consider advocating for another judge.
"The need for more than one circuit judge in our county has long been discussed, but the events of the past week have further shed light on the issue," White said in the release. "We want to ensure that all citizens of Mingo County have access to an effective court system without delay."
Marcum, an assistant prosecuting attorney in the county since late 2011, said Monday in a phone interview the court docket is always packed.
After the state Supreme Court suspended Thornsbury, it decided to appoint both Cabell County Judge John L. Cummings and former Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh to take over in the interim. Marcum took this as evidence there is enough work for two circuit judges.
"I fully support it, and it will help restore any integrity that was lost in Mingo County courts," Marcum said.
White and Marcum are both members of the same faction of Democrats, known in recent years as Team Mingo. Traditionally, different groups of Democrats vie among themselves in Mingo County for political power with little to no opposition from Republicans.
Chafin, a longtime Democratic senator, is part of another faction.
"I have long been a tireless advocate for a second judge in Mingo County . . . and twice sponsored bills and passed legislation in the Senate for a second judge citing the opportunity for abuse in a single judge circuit as the reason," Chafin said in the emailed statement.
Chafin sponsored bills that would have changed the law to allow for another circuit judge in Mingo County in 1998 and 2003, according to state records. In 1991, he successfully advocated for allowing attorneys in counties with only one circuit judge to take their cases to Charleston if the judge was unavailable.
He was accused of pushing the changes because of disputes with the circuit judge or for his personal benefit.
He acknowledged having a dispute with then-circuit judge Elliot "Spike" Maynard, but said it was not the "driving force" for his support of the measure.
Chafin told the Daily Mail at the time he wanted lawmakers to eliminate all single-judge circuit courts because such judges have an "absolute monopoly on justice."