- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say a former Mingo County judge should receive a lengthy sentence because he abused his power and damaged the county’s judicial system.

Former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury is asking for leniency. Thornsbury’s lawyers say he has cooperated with an ongoing federal corruption investigation in the county.

Both sides filed sentencing recommendations in U.S. District Court in Charleston this week. Thornsbury is scheduled to be sentenced June 9.

Thornsbury pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to deprive George White, a campaign sign maker, of his constitutional rights. Federal sentencing guidelines call for 30 to 37 months in prison for the offense.

Thornsbury’s conduct was an exceptional circumstance, and the sentencing guidelines do not account for the significance of his abuse of power, the prosecution filing said.

“By railroading a defendant in his court to further his own political interests, the defendant has done damage to the legitimacy of Mingo County’s judicial system that will take decades to repair,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Ruby wrote in the filing.

Prosecutors say Thornsbury participated in a scheme to protect the late Sheriff Eugene Crum, a political ally, from accusations that the sheriff bought prescription painkillers from White.

Crum had White arrested in early 2013 instead of paying money he owed for signs and other materials. White then went to federal agents and told them he provided Crum with pills.

Crum sought the help of Thornsbury, former county prosecutor Michael Sparks and former county Commissioner David Baisden. They cooked up a scheme to try to keep White from talking to the FBI about Crum. White was told that if he switched lawyers and pleaded guilty to drug charges, he would receive a lighter sentence from Thornsbury, prosecutors say.

Thornsbury’s lawyers said the impact of the former judge’s conviction already has been overwhelming. His wife divorced him, and he lost his law license and his pension. He also was expelled from the Shriner Scottish Rite and Masonic Lodge because he is now a convicted felon.

Thornsbury’s lawyers also cited his years of community service, including charitable work.

“‘Loss of respect’ is too mild a phrase for the way that Thornsbury is now regarded within community and the state; he is a pariah who, for the last nine months, has spent his days effectively imprisoned in a small apartment in Williamson,” one of Thornsbury’s lawyers, Steven G. Jory, wrote in the defense’s filing.

Crum died in an unrelated shooting in April 2013. Sparks pleaded guilty to depriving White of his rights and is awaiting sentencing. Baisden was sentenced in an unrelated case earlier this year after authorities said he tried to get a store to sell him tires for his personal use at a government contract rate.

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