Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury sued over alleged abuse
A couple allegedly harassed by Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury filed civil lawsuits Monday against the judge and several other officials.
Attorney Mike Callaghan and his legal partner, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Neely, filed separate lawsuits Monday on behalf of Robert and Kim Woodruff.
"This is the single most outrageous breach of judicial conduct, judicial ethics. It is utterly and completely beyond anything imaginable in this state," Neely said Monday afternoon during a joint press conference from the office the attorneys share.
"The conscious, deliberate orchestrating of a malicious and totally groundless prosecution gives such a terrible, terrible image of the judicial system that it is almost beyond comprehension."
Neely filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kim Woodruff in Kanawha Circuit Court. Callaghan filed a lawsuit on behalf of Robert Woodruff in the southern district of West Virginia's federal court.
The Woodruffs allege a lengthy list of misdeeds, ranging from gross negligence to false imprisonment. They are seeking monetary damages.
A federal indictment against Thornsbury and other Mingo County officials has opened a floodgate of accusations involving the county.
In August, the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin accused Thornsbury of repeatedly attempting to frame Robert Woodruff after Kim Woodruff called off a romantic relationship with the judge.
The indictment also accuses several other officials - including two law enforcement officers and an employee of the Mingo County Commission - of conspiring to help Thornsbury in his vendetta against Robert Woodruff.
Soon after the indictment, Callaghan said he'd followed the law and informed state agencies to expect a civil lawsuit. State officials tried to negotiate a settlement, but Callaghan said they told him Friday the parties hit an impasse.
The two lawsuits closely follow the accusations outlined in the federal indictment against Thornsbury. However, Monday's lawsuits state Kim Woodruff pushed aside repeated advances from the judge.
The lawsuits claim Thornsbury wrote a love letter to Kim Woodruff, told her they were meant to be together forever, tried to sully Robert Woodruff and threatened Kim Woodruff's job as his secretary if she didn't have sex with him.
The federal indictment states Thornsbury and Kim Woodruff "engaged in intimate physical contact" in the first half of 2008.
"Was there forced hugging? Was there forced kissing? Yes, quite conceivably," Neely said, adding more details will come out after interviews with everyone involved.
"But was there a sexual relationship or an affair? Absolutely not."
Neely, at times shaking and raising his voice, described a desperate situation for Kim Woodruff.
Millions of women face similar problems every day, he said. Threatened by the idea of losing a well-paying job with benefits, Kim Woodruff felt forced to appease certain aspects of the judge's sexual passes, Neely said.
"When someone like Judge Thornsbury put his arm around her or attempted to kiss her, it's pretty hard to say, 'Get away, don't do that' and jeopardize your job," Neely said.
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The civil lawsuits' remaining allegations mirror those from the federal indictment. The Woodruffs' version of events is as follows:
Thornsbury encouraged state trooper Brandon Moore to arrest Robert Woodruff without cause. He then put Jarrod Fletcher, then-director of homeland security and emergency management, at the head of a grand jury. Thornsbury's business partner, Fletcher helped the judge call the grand jury and pursue an indictment against Robert Woodruff.
Thornbsury also told Jeff Cline, a private citizen, to plant a metal box filled with illegal drugs under Woodruff's car. Cline initially agreed, but then backed out of the plan.
These two attempts failed. Thornsbury then tried to work with other officials in early 2012 to put Woodruff in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Woodruff was alleged to have gotten into a fight with two other men. Although a police report and video evidence show Woodruff acted in self-defense, Gilbert Police officer Nathan Glanden obtained an arrest warrant for him.
Thornsbury then told Cline to tell Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks to pursue a six-month stint in jail for Woodruff. Sparks eventually dropped the case, citing lack of evidence.
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After the allegations came to light, Moore and Cline received immunity and Fletcher received a proffer agreement - assuring some protection against prosecution - from Goodwin, according to federal filings.
Calling the men "song birds," Neely said the three agreed to testify against Thornsbury to avoid prosecution.
"No one has punished them. And this lawsuit is the one opportunity that the citizens of this state have to punish those people," Neely said. "Because they cut a deal and walked out after utterly reprehensible conduct scot-free!"
Both lawsuits also list State Police Col. Jay Smithers and state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury as defendants. Smithers is Moore's superior and the high court oversees circuit judges. The city of Gilbert and the Mingo County Commission are also named.
Thornsbury is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to federal charges in an unrelated case. In exchange, prosecutors will drop charges involving the Woodruffs.
That won't affect the civil proceedings, Callaghan said. There is still enough evidence to prove wrongdoing by the judge and others in civil court, he said. He also expects Thornsbury to admit some guilt in the Woodruffs' case.
Callaghan and Neely said they are ready for trial, but willing to negotiate a settlement.
Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman, declined to comment on an open lawsuit. He said Moore is still on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman declined comment.