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W.Va. prosecutor fighting to keep law license

September 20, 2013
Associated Press

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) — Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks is fighting to keep his law license.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which handles complaints against attorneys, asked the West Virginia Supreme Court Thursday to suspend Sparks' license after he was implicated in a corruption case against Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury.

In a response filed Friday, Sparks denied any wrongdoing and asked that the petition be dismissed. He has not been charged with a crime, although federal prosecutors did not rule out that possibility.

Federal prosecutors charged Thornsbury with conspiracy last month, claiming the judge had an affair with his secretary and tried to frame her husband repeatedly between 2008 and 2012 after she broke things off.

On Thursday, Thornsbury was charged with conspiracy in a second, separate case. In the latest case, prosecutors say Thornsbury, Sparks and other local officials cooked up a scheme to stop a confidential informant from telling the FBI about the drug use of now-deceased Sheriff Eugene Crum. Crum was killed in an April shooting that prosecutors say was unrelated.

Thornsbury's attorneys have indicated he will plead guilty to the latest charges.

The agency accused Sparks of misconduct, arguing that he had a duty to report alleged illegal activity by the judge.

Sparks claims that while he suspected possible wrongdoing, he didn't have enough proof to file a complaint with the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. Thornsbury, who was has been the county's only judge since 1997 and was head of a Democratic Party faction that Sparks associated with, would have been able to review any complaint.

"Any prosecutor filing such a complaint in a single judge county, without first having unimpeachable evidence establishing the judge had engaged in misconduct which raises substantial question as to his fitness for office, would be committing professional and political suicide," Sparks says in a response filed by his attorney, Lonnie Simmons.

"Asserting that a judge is unfit to serve in that office is an accusation that must never be made lightly or frivolously, and must be supported by solid evidence and actual knowledge of the complaint," Sparks added.

Sparks claims Thornsbury implicated him in the latest case because Sparks cooperated with federal investigators.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with this," Sparks told the Williamson Daily News, suggesting that Thornsbury is lying "to exact vengeance against me in retaliation for my cooperation with his federal investigation."

The petition argued that Sparks' license should be suspended immediately, because lawyers who hold public office are held to a higher standard of conduct and violations by elected officials are "more egregious because of the betrayal of public trust attached to the office."

"This court must insure that the public's interests are protected and that the integrity of the legal profession is maintained," it said.

It was unclear Friday when the court would rule.



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