By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON - A former Mingo County deputy magistrate court clerk claims the former circuit court judge who is scheduled to be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court slandered her and caused her substantial hardship, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Candice Harper, who is now employed through the West Virginia Supreme Court as a magistrate’s assistant in Mingo County, has filed a lawsuit last against former judge Michael Thornsbury. Also listed as defendants are Jarrod Fletcher, the former Mingo County director of 911 and homeland security, State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury and the Mingo County Commission.
Harper was a deputy in the Mingo County Circuit Clerk’s office and a clerk to the Mingo County Magistrate Court. She also is Thornsbury’s niece by marriage.
“While employed by the Mingo County Magistrate Clerk’s Office, plaintiff’s direct supervisor was Terry Sanders, however, plaintiff worked at the will and pleasure of defendant Thornsbury,” the complaint states.
According to court documents, Harper says that in the spring of 2009, she learned that Thornsbury was having an affair with a woman who, at that time, was employed in the Mingo County Probation Office. That woman later became the judge’s secretary, Harper claims. She also says Thornsbury had “various affairs with women in the community.”
When Thornsbury learned Harper knew of the affair, he “had great fear that plaintiff would tell his wife (the plaintiff’s aunt) about the affair.” That’s when Harper’s relationship with Thornsbury “soured dramatically,” according to the complaint.
Harper says Sanders began questioning the time she took off work, and she claims six original time sheets were discovered to be missing from their office. She claims in the suit that Sanders later informed her that he was instructed by Thornsbury “to secretly document plaintiff’s work time incorrectly in a deliberate attempt to have her wrongfully terminated.”
She further states that Thornsbury and former Mingo County Magistrate Eugene Crum conspired to force her out of her job as a deputy clerk. Harper says that in August 2011, she was summoned to Crum’s magistrate’s office and “was threatened with criminal prosecution if she did not leave her job” in the magistrate clerk’s office and take a job with Crum as his assistant. Crum was well aware at that time that he planned to resign from that position Jan. 1, 2012, in order to announce his candidacy for the office of Mingo County sheriff. If she had agreed to Crum’s alleged demands, she would have been without a job when he resigned. Crum won the election and was shot and killed in a Williamson parking lot in August of 2013.
“Thornsbury directed Magistrate Crum to make these threats in order to cause plaintiff emotional distress and force her to leave her job,” the complaint states.
In May 2012, Harper says she was the victim of further harassment when she was told by Thornsbury to move out of the apartment she rented from him and Fletcher because, according to him, the building had been sold to another landlord. She says her water was shut off that day as well. She claims that Fletcher, who is described in the complaint as a close friend and business partner of Thornsbury, “had the tool necessary to shut off plaintiff’s water and did so in an effort to harass plaintiff.”
She says she later learned the building was not sold and that Thornsbury and Fletcher remain the owners of several properties, including residential buildings, as well as businesses.
Harper goes on to say that two days after the former judge’s daughter’s wedding, she refused to attend after learning of his affair, Thornsbury had Harper’s computer use in the magistrate clerk’s office audited, and he then alleged she was using her work computer to view Facebook, Twitter and Verizon web pages “even though she did not have an account with any of these social media websites at the time.”
Thornsbury was indicted last year on conspiracy charges and was accused of using his position “to frame a romantic rival for crimes he didn’t commit.” The state Supreme Court subsequently suspended the judge and his law license. In an agreement to drop these charges, the disgraced judge entered a guilty plea to conspiring to prevent a defendant the right to choose his legal counsel. He is scheduled to be sentenced Monday at 1:30 p.m. on this charge in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit states that when federal investigators began looking into claims against Thornsbury, as well as Fletcher and others in Mingo County, they proceeded to speak with Harper on several occasions.
“The plaintiff told federal officials what she knew regarding the illegal conduct of defendants Thornsbury and Fletcher,” the complaint states. “Upon information and belief, in an attempt to discredit plaintiff, defendant Thornsbury knowingly spread false rumors that plaintiff was having an affair with an FBI agent,” in an attempt to discredit her.
Harper said she was forced to leave the magistrate clerk’s office “after enduring nearly a year of defendants Thornsbury and Fletcher’s constant harassment and humiliation, and accepted the magistrate’s assistant position when it was offered to her. She claims she sustained humiliation and mental anguish, as well as developing “stress-related illnesses, which required her to miss work.”
Harper alleges that the defendants created a hostile work environment for her, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, maliciously discredited her, and slandered her.
Harper seeks compensatory damages for her economic losses, emotional distress, humiliation, disparagement and lost wages — both back pay and front pay. She also seeks punitive damages for the defendants’ grossly negligent actions.
“Plaintiff does not seek relief from any agency of the State of West Virginia that exceeds the limit of the applicable insurance policy, but plaintiff seeks damages in excess of the state insurance limit against defendants individually,” the complaint states.
Harper is being represented by attorneys Michael O. Callaghan and Joshua R. Martin of the Charleston law firm of Neely & Callaghan. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.