The same 424 square miles that make up Mingo County in southern West Virginia also make up the 30th judicial circuit. That circuit is assigned only one judge, who until last week was Michael Thornsbury.
Thornsbury was suspended following his indictment by a federal grand jury on multiple charges.
The Mingo Circuit is one of nine judicial circuits in West Virginia with only one judge. The other 22 circuits have as few as two or as many as seven judges.
This week, Mingo County Democratic delegates Harry Keith White and Justin Marcum said they will push for an additional circuit judge. State Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, who represents a different faction of Mingo Democrats, has repeatedly pushed for a second judge.
"I have long been a tireless advocate for a second judge in Mingo County," Chafin wrote this week, "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."
Thornsbury is accused of trying to frame the husband of a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair and involving others in his scheme. The judicial process will determine his guilt or innocence, but regardless, having a lone judge in a circuit allows for too much power in the hands of one individual.
Checks and balances are part of our system of government. At the state level, the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches balance so that no one position has too much control. At the county level, three member commissions govern.
A lone circuit judge can wield significant power. A second judge in the same circuit would serve to balance that power.
That's not to say that nine new circuit judges need to be added in West Virginia, one for the 30th circuit and one each for the 3rd, 18th, 19th, 20th, 26th, 27th, 28th and 31st.
Most of the circuits with lone judges border other rural circuits with a single judge.
The West Virginia Legislature should consider redrawing the circuits so that none has a lone judge, and do so without adding multiple personnel.