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So many honest lawyers; only one opening to fill

Ron Gregory rongregory@gmail.com

December 11, 2013

CHARLESTON — So many honest lawyers; only one position to fill.


A lengthy delay in convening the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission has led to a tight timeline for naming the eventual replacement for disgraced Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury. According to one of the commission members, Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper, the board was reconstituted with some changes in membership. A required organizational meeting of the newly-constituted board slowed the process some.


State law says a new judge must be named within 90 days of the departure of the former judge. The clock is clearly running on that.


It is seldom a politically popular decision when the governor eventually names a new judge. The losing candidates and their supporters are left unhappy, no matter who or where it is.


In Mingo, that will be particularly true. If anyone doubts that “county attorney” (state law says that job is held by the prosecutor herself) and Assistant Prosecutor Glen R. Rutledge is the choice of Team Mingo, he or she likely doubts there is really a Santa Claus. On the other hand, Letitia “Tish” Chafin did not get her last name by virtue of a drawing at the lottery commission. She is the Chafin faction candidate.


That leaves the remainder to fill the seven-person field. Let me underline the point that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is not exactly known for shocking, dramatic actions. If he picks someone other than the Team Mingo or Chafin guy or gal, it will be time to check his blood pressure and for any vital signs.


My story, then, is it will either be Rutledge or Chafin. Nothing else makes sense. If Tomblin chooses Rutledge, he is selecting a respected attorney who would make the majority that elected Thornsbury happy. If he picks Chafin, he gets an upcoming attorney who proved an attractive statewide candidate for state Supreme Court just two years ago. That she is also the wife of state Sen. Truman Chafin does nothing to diminish the likelihood of her appointment. I think she will be appointed.


Sen. Chafin was one of those said to be “sold out” by Tomblin when the Logan senator jumped from the state Senate to the governor’s office. Long-time allies said Tomblin gave the wink and the nod for some southern senators to vote for Jeff Kessler to replace him, thus consigning a number of senators to near oblivion.


Kessler, in fact, gave Chafin a tiny “shoebox” office where he barely had room to turn around. In fact, most statehouse observers never saw the Mingo senator darken the door of that insult. He now has different, much more impressive, quarters near the well.


And let me emphasize: Mrs. Chafin is totally qualified. She is fair, presentable and has virtually no skeletons in her closet. She will look distinguished in a judge’s cloak and I, personally, continue to support her for the appointment. Tomblin can do no better.


… Readers continue to bombard me with reports that former Mingo Prosecutor Michael Sparks is “selling popcorn” at the Southside Mall theater, across the river in Goody, Ky. Management and his friends insist he is not. If he has an exact double that people are seeing, maybe it was the double who committed his crimes.


… Readers provide great tips and story information but some discretion also has to be used by a newspaperman. I cannnot simply write that a local police officer is having an affair with the gal at the post office window without some verification.


… Some of you become upset and think I am “in the pocket” of Team Mingo or TrumanChafin if I fail to report some rumors verbatim. That is not responsible journalism.


Some of you have told me about events that took place 40 or 50 years ago. Often, records did not survive and I have no corroborating witnesses to back up the stories. You won’t see many of them here, even if they are true.


Some current-day items are not as easy to prove as might be expected. A 30-something woman who claims to have an ongoing romantic and sexual relationship with a family court judge really offers little proof. She says he has allowed her to sit in on family court hearings, which are, by law, closed. Tape recordings of the hearings do not contain her voice and there is no videotape. None of the participating lawyers is ever heard voicing an objection because a nonparticipant is sitting, perhaps on the judge’s lap. It would be weird if the lawyers welcome an outsider to such hearings. The gal also claims she and the judge use the county shooting range as an “outdoor lover’s lane” setting.


While it is basically immaterial to us whether the judge is having an affair with a vixen at the corner of Capitol and Quarrier streets or anywhere else (except that he’s married, I suppose), hearing that she sat in on closed family court hearings raised the eyebrows of officials at the Supreme Court recently.


I’m sure the subject judge knows if he invited his paramour to sit in on closed hearings. I suspect his staff knows as well. If any of them would like to tell me about it, then it becomes an item for this column.


We just can’t print everything we hear for the truth.


… Does it suprise anyone that attorney Ben White has been charged following an altercation over the past weekend at the Logan Giovanni’s?


This is the same attorney who defended a young man who defiantly wore a National Rifle Association shirt to school. When told to take it off, he refused. Officials punished him.


But White, an apparent defender of civil liberties, went to bat for the boy, using Facebook and other social media to cast school administrators as villains while making the boy look like a martyr of some kind.


The only thing the lad was a martyr for was defiance or the law and anarchy in the streets.


Eventually, the student apologized and returned to school. Of course, had the boy and his father agreed to apologize immediately, it would have yielded the same result.


Everyone says there are two sides to any story. I will listen to White’s (and his ardent defender Tim Koontz) defense but I am skeptical at best.


… If, as some legislators such as Rupie Phillips maintain, law enforcement in Southern West Virginia is so desperately corrupt that they would charge an innocent state delegate with domestic violence, it behooves him and others in the legislature to change it.


… Read this:


“In or about April 2012, (Dallas) Toler, who at the time was a member of a political campaigning and fundraising group known as ‘Team Mingo,’ participated with other individuals in an effort to identify potential voters who would support Team Mingo’s candidates in the 2012 primary election. Toler was a candidate to retain the office of magistrate.”


Toler, the county’s former chief magistrate, pleaded guity in federal court in Charleston last week to voter registration fraud. Toler, 45, is the fourth Mingo County official to plead guilty to charges in connection with a federal corruption investigation.


Those who are unhappy with my commentary regarding Team Mingo might wonder just who provided the previous quotation. Would anyone be surprised if I pointed out that it was none other than U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin? It was not me; it was not a political “hack” working for Truman Chafin it was the U.S. Attorney responsible for the investigation into Mingo corruption.


May I also point out that Goodwin is a Democrat with no obvious ax to grind with any faction in Mingo County. Yet this is not the first time Goodwin has made it clear what the federal investigation has determined. Whether all readers like it or not, Team Mingo is implicated in illegal election activities. Goodwin has said so repeatedly. I have barely scraped the surface regarding statements Goodwin has made. Election corruption, illegal drug use and distribution and gambling have been clearly identified as playing a part in these prosecutions. Nobody has to spread a rumor; just read what the U.S. Attorney says.


Those who think I am simply spouting words delivered to me by irresponsible Mingo Countians who don’t know what they’re talking about can guess again. As I have said before, I haven’t convicted anyone but Goodwin surely has, the latest being Toler. As the old folks said, “The proof is in the pudding (or puddin’) and we’ve had plenty of proof in federal court these past few months.


I have said that not all of those associated with Team Mingo are crooks. But they are not all pearly white either, by any stretch of the imagination. Those who continue to insist on their purity in the face of overwhelming evidence (and guilty pleas) are delusional at best.


Goodwin also said last week, “Corruption is the biggest threat to democracy.


In Mingo County, corruption was an epidemic. Once again in this investigation, we have a judge engaging in corruption — this time corruption of the electoral process so that he and his cohorts could keep their jobs.” Goodwin continued, “The people of Mingo County are tired of these shenanigans, and we’ll continue to do what’s necessary to help them.”


Do I need to point out who the “cohorts” obviously are? Does anyone think Goodwin is wrong when he implies that Toler alone could not have orchestrated the scheme of registering people as voters who were not legally eligible? Dream on, Alice.


As I have written before, it is not me who has created the problems these officials have. They did it themselves. And family and other friends who continue to insist they did nothing wrong are not helping anybody’s cause. In addition, pleas to the heart that those who have been convicted have “children and family and it’s Christmastime” aren’t doing much good either. Nobody other than the convicted caused their own problems at holiday time.


I can tell you who is not among the “cohorts.” Yes, Sen. Chafin is not on the list.


… Even though they must be checked for accuracy, please keep your rumors, story ideas and comments coming. Use my email or cell, 304-533-5185