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W.Va. State Police chief wants lawsuit against him tossed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of the West Virginia State Police says he shouldn't be included in lawsuits stemming from an alleged scheme by former Mingo County judge Michael Thornsbury.Col. Jay Smithers moved to dismiss the claims against him this week, saying Robert and Kimberly Woodruff haven't stated viable claims for relief against him.Kimberly Woodruff, Thornsbury's former secretary, and her husband, Robert, filed two lawsuits last month.Robert Woodruff filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest and wrongful imprisonment. Kimberly Woodruff filed a lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court, claiming Thornsbury sexually harassed her, wrongly fired her and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.To land Robert Woodruff in jail, prosecutors say, Thornsbury put his business partner, Jarrod Fletcher, in charge of a Mingo grand jury; tried to persuade a close friend, Jeff Cline, to plant drugs in Woodruff's truck; and had State Police Trooper Brandon Moore and Gilbert police officer Nathan Glanden wrongly arrest Woodruff.After her husband's arrest, Thornsbury fired Kim Woodruff in 2009, according to her lawsuit.Both are suing Smithers only in his official capacity as commander of the State Police -- essentially another way of suing the state. Defendants sued as individuals can be held liable and recovery could be obtained against their personal assets. Thornsbury is being sued individually and in his official capacity. Both lawsuits also name Steve Canterbury, in his official capacity as administrator of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Moore, Fletcher, Mingo's director of homeland security, and Glanden, also are being sued individually and in their official capacities.The City of Gilbert and members of the Mingo County Commission are being sued in their official capacity. Jeff Cline is being sued individually.
Smithers, represented by Michael Mullins of Steptoe & Johnson, argues in federal court filings that he is immune from being held liable because of the 11th Amendment, which bars lawsuits in federal court for monetary damages against the state unless the state has consented to be sued.Woodruff argues that, as his employer, Smithers and the State Police are liable for Moore's actions.Moore, who was named West Virginia State Police Trooper of the Year in 2010, is on paid administrative leave, State Police Capt. Tony Cummings said earlier this week. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver has been assigned Robert Woodruff's case. Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman has been assigned Kimberly Woodruff's case.Thornsbury is expected to respond to the federal lawsuit by Oct. 28.He pleaded guilty earlier this month in a charge of trying to deprive George White of his constitutional rights. Thornsbury admitted that he agreed to give White a lighter sentence on drug charges if he switched attorneys. After White got a new attorney, he signed a statement saying he had never provided slain Mingo sheriff Eugene Crum with prescription pills -- he'd previously told federal agents that he had done so.
If U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston approves Thornsbury's plea deal, the charges outlined in an indictment, which allege that he tried to have Woodruff jailed, would be dropped.Mike Callaghan, the Woodruffs' attorney, has said dropping those charges won't hurt his client's cases.Reach Kate White at or 304-348-1723.
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