W.Va. Supreme Court to hear Mingo prosecutor out

Vicki Smith Associated Press

September 27, 2013

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court will let embattled Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks argue next month why he should be allowed to keep his law license despite three demands for its suspension from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

The hearing was set late Thursday for Oct. 16 in Charleston.

The latest complaint, filed late Wednesday, says Sparks lied to the high court last week when he said he didn’t know about alleged corruption by a now-suspended judge.

The group that investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers said a sealed affidavit by FBI Special Agent Joseph Ciccarelli reveals that Sparks admitted he knew about the crimes that Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury is now charged with committing.

In one case, federal prosecutors say Thornsbury tried to frame his former mistress’ husband for crimes the man didn’t commit. In the other, Thornsbury allegedly conspired with Sparks, the late Sheriff Eugene Crum and a county commissioner to spare Crum from paying a $3,000 debt and to protect Crum’s reputation and career by jailing a man who sold him drugs.

Thornsbury is expected to plead guilty in that case next week, in exchange for the dismissal of the first case.

Crum was killed in April in an unrelated shooting.

Federal prosecutors say he owed campaign-sign maker George White money but didn’t want to pay.

White is serving one to 15 years under a plea agreement that prosecutors say he was forced to accept after being ordered to fire his own attorney and accept one chosen by the judge.

Sparks continued to deny he has committed any misconduct or crimes Thursday and requested more time to fully respond to the latest allegations.

Suspending Sparks’ license when he has not been charged with or convicted of any crime “would be professionally, personally and economically devastating” to a man who “strived to carry out his ethical duties in Mingo County in front of a judge who … was very powerful,” attorney Lonnie Simmons wrote.

The new complaint, however, says Sparks’ presence in the prosecutor’s office is undermining public confidence in the justice system. The FBI affidavit says it shows that Sparks knew about and was involved in the conspiracies and demonstrates that his response to the ethics complaints last week was false.

Sparks’ actions “shock the conscience of the public, who expect a neutral and detached prosecutor whose duty is to seek justice,” the complaint says, “and his course of misconduct clearly demonstrates his refusal to uphold this duty.”

The complaint repeatedly notes that Sparks also has failed to abide by ethical standards and professional rules of conduct for his continued failure to report the judge’s alleged misconduct.

“Because of the enormous trust that the public places in its lawyers,” the complaint says, “this court must insure that the public’s interests are protected and that the integrity of the legal profession is maintained.”