When Michael Thornsbury resigned as Mingo County’s circuit judge last year, longtime family court judge Miki Thompson submitted her name as a potential replacement. The panel that recommended people to succeed Thornsbury to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin picked two names — but Thompson wasn’t one of them.
That didn’t matter to Mingo County voters, who this week chose Thompson as the Democratic nominee to be Mingo County’s new circuit judge. No Republican filed for the seat, making it likely that Thompson will be elected to the bench in November.
Tomblin has not appointed a replacement for Thornsbury, and Thompson said she hopes the governor chooses her, now that she’s won the primary. Members of the West Virginia Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission said Friday that, even though they didn’t submit her name to the governor, they still think Thompson would make a good judge.
“I think we need stability. The sooner we get started, the better,” said Thompson, 61, who, if she wins the general election, couldn’t take her seat on the bench until January.
Thornsbury was one of several Mingo County officials — including prosecutor Michael Sparks, county commissioner David Baisden and magistrate Dallas Toler — who resigned over the past year after being charged with federal crimes. In Thornsbury’s case, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive a man of his constitutional rights.
Since Thornsbury’s resignation, Senior Status Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings and retired state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh have filled in.
Thompson, who has been Mingo’s family court judge since 2009, defeated her three opponents, including the two people the judicial commission recommended to replace Thornsbury — public defenders Teresa McCune and Jonathan “Duke” Jewell. Attorney Robert Carlton also ran for the seat.
Kent Carper, a member of the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission, said he understands why the governor held off on making any appointment. State law says the governor is supposed to have 30 days from when he gets the commission’s recommendations, but Tomblin has had the recommendations for Thornsbury’s replacement since December.
“I thought it was a very wise position to take. He didn’t want to interfere and give anyone a leg up before the primary,” said Carper, a Charleston attorney and president of the Kanawha County Commission.
Now that Thompson has won the primary, Carper said he hopes the governor will appoint her.
“Her reputation and her credentials are absolutely outstanding,” Carper said. “Her resume and her reputation and judicial temperament were beyond reproach. There are so many slots, and the idea isn’t to send every name [to the governor] that’s on there.”
The commission can recommend up to five names for a judicial vacancy.
A spokeswoman for Tomblin said Friday she didn’t know when or if an appointment would be made.
Deb Scudiere, chairwoman of the vacancy commission, said she remembers interviewing Thompson for the judge appointment.
“We had some very qualified people during those interviews and she impressed me very much,” Scudiere said.
Commission member Kenny Perdue said he didn’t want to talk about Thompson, but he stood by the names the commission gave to Tomblin.
“I believe that the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission made the correct decision in sending the two nominees to the governor,” said Perdue, president of the state AFL-CIO.
Another member of the commission, Huntington lawyer Bert Ketchum, said Friday that the decision not to recommend Thompson doesn’t mean she isn’t a good lawyer or wouldn’t make a good circuit judge.
“We just picked the two we thought were the best, given the situation down in Mingo at that time,” said Ketchum. “I think Miki will make a good judge.”
Other members of the commission, Harry Deitzler, Peter Markham, Charles Trump, Doug Hardman, Don Wagenheim and Steve Robey, weren’t available for comment for this report.
Thompson said she doesn’t have any hard feelings about not getting the recommendation. What really counts, she said, is that the people of Mingo County elected her.
“I’ve always tried to treat everyone fairly and do a good job. I deal with people’s children and property, the most important issues for people,” she said.
Thompson admitted that she was nervous about the election because, when she deals with people, it’s usually during the hardest time in their lives — in family court. Also, she wasn’t sure if voters would lump her in with their mistrust of county politicians.
“People are just tired of bad politics here,” she said. “I ran into that on the campaign trail. It’s probably one of the reasons for the low [voter] turnout.”
Thornsbury, who served as a judge for 16 years, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to deprive the constitutional rights of a man he sentenced on drug charges. Ex-prosecuting attorney Sparks pleaded guilty to depriving the same man, George White, of his constitutional rights, a misdemeanor.
If a federal judge approves the ex-judge’s plea deal with prosecutors when he’s sentenced June 9, accusations that he violated the rights of his former secretary’s husband by landing him in jail on trumped-up charges would be dropped.
Ex-commissioner Baisden was sentenced to 20 months in prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to a federal extortion charge. Ex-magistrate Toler pleaded guilty to one count of voter-registration fraud and was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Toler pleaded guilty after admitting that he registered a felon to vote. His bail was revoked before he was sentenced, over allegations that he tried to sell cocaine.
Thompson said federal prosecutors did not question her during the corruption probe, and she didn’t know that what federal prosecutors exposed was going on.
“I’m kind of a loner. I drive to work, park my car, go up three floors to my office, go in, do my job; I go down the same stairs, get in my car and I come home,” Thompson said.
In 1975, Thompson earned a bachelor of arts in communications from the University of Kentucky. She received a certificate to teach gifted children from Marshall University in 1987 and was a teacher in Mingo schools for eight years, according to the application she provided to the judicial vacancy commission.
She left teaching to attend law school. Her first year was spent at Ohio Northern, and then she graduated with a UK law degree in 1991.
From 1992 through 2008, Thompson had a private law practice in Williamson. During some of that time, from 1992 through 2004, she also worked as an assistant prosecutor in Mingo, under then-Prosecuting Attorneys Glenn Rutledge and Ronald Rumora.
In 2004, she ran against Sparks to become the county’s prosecuting attorney but lost by less than 300 votes, her application states.
Thompson said she’ll miss family court but that being a circuit judge will still allow her to do what she’s best at, being a peacemaker.
“I’m excited to be a part of making things better,” she said. “There has been an oppressive atmosphere in Mingo that I think is starting to lift, but it’s going to take time, like rebuilding trust in any kind of relationship.”
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.