Mingo Judge Thornsbury Under a Cloud (again)

Photo of of Judge Michael Thornsbury by Pamela Scott Johnson  for the Williamson Daily News accompanied her story 1/23/09 story, "Mingo judge recused from county case."  

I first published this post on 5/21/13 at 11:23 PM and last updated it on 5/23/13 at 3:11 PM, after adding the photo and fixing formatting.  The indictment finally got issued on August 14 and filed on Agust 15, 2013.  I wrote an update here.


Mingo County, West Virginia only has one Circuit Court Judge, Michael Thornsbury.  Kallie Cart (email, twitter) broke the story last night on WCHS TV in Charleston that Thornsbury--along with one of the county commissioners, David Baisden--is under investigation.  She reports that the FBI and WV State Police, working with US Attorney's office, are looking at  alleged election violations and other possible federal crimes.
We were in Mingo County on Monday and learned that a federal grand jury recently met and that indictments are expected soon.  Eyewitness News reached out to both of the men, but our messages were not returned.

Ironic, that Thornsbury is  under a cloud again

When Thornsbury  was a Williamson attorney running for the first time for the WV House of  Delegates, he told the AP's Martha Bryson Hodel ("Election Brings New Candidates To Corruption-Plagued Mingo County", for her 5/9/88):
It's up to the people this time....They can choose the old way, or they can take the best opportunity they've had to vote good, honest candidates into office.

Back then,  Hodel reported that,

According to the indictments, much of [the 15,000 or $20,000 required to run for office in the past] went to buy votes for politicians who in turn used their positions to protect friends and family engaged in other illegal activities.

Drug corruption was also rife.  Tennis Hatfield, a former radio announcer running to replace the Sheriff told Hodel,
They were doing more business than the K-mart....When you can put up a sign on the building that says 'Out Of Drugs, Back In 30 Minutes,' there's something more wrong than usual.

Sadly,  Mingo still has problems with drugs,  It made national news last month for this murder of an anti-drug sheriff Eugene Crum, whose widow, Rosie, is now filling his term.  Oddly (to me, at least),  2nd amendment conspiracists are spreading stories via blogs that Crum was murdered not due to his war on drugs, but because he stood up for gun rights. 

This is not the first time Thornsbury has made the news

Thornbury's refused to recuse himself in suit against against  Massey Energy and its subsidiary Rawls Sales and Processing for slurry-poisoned well water (Mingo Circuit Court case number 08-C-69).

Justin Anderson wrote about the case for the West Virginia Record July, 24, 2009.  Ken Ward published the Plaintiff's motion for disqualification of Thornsbury at his Coal Tattoo blog post at the Gazette for August 19, 2009, after Supreme Court Judge Robin Davis ordered his recusal.  (She later transferred the case to the Mass Litigation Panel on 4/28/10.)

That refusal  made him a cautionary tale for Shira Goodman, writing for a campaign against judicial corruption in Pennsylvania.  She referring to Paul Nyden's reporting for the Charleston Gazette ("Hundreds to travel to Charleston for coal slurry lawsuit," November 13, 2010.)

Filmmaker Mari-lyn Evans reminded readers on facebook today of
close ties between Mingo County Judge Thornberry and [deposed Massey CEO Don Blankenship...Judge Thornberry was... seen at Starters restaurant in Williamson with Don Blankenship much like Blankenship was seen with WV... Justice [Spike Maynard in Monaco]... France on holiday while [the Caperton suit] was before that court.
Thornsbury had accused his accuser  of holding a grudge because of prior litigation.  Less colorful, perhaps, but important to Davis in ordering the recusal:  the possible perceived conflict of interest:    in 1985, while an attorney, Thornsbury represented Rawl Sales in a case which included expert testimony on the effects of blasting on underground geology.

Cart told viewers the station had confirmed its Thornsbury story "through multiple sources." 

When I contacted Cart via twitter this afternoon, she indicated  that  the Judge cancelled court today so she hadn't been able to talk to him, but that she hoped to update the story soon. 

No one else in West Virginia  has been reporting the story yet, although some residents are discussing Cart's report on TOPIX.  That's another irony, given Thornsbury doesn't much like the website, as reported by Rachel Dove Baldwin "Topix becomes matter of concern for judicial system," Williamson Daily News, 10/3/2012.)
The U.S. Congress needs to adopt stricter laws to govern sites like these, or shut them down completely.

Actually Judge Thornsbury doesn't much like The Charleston Gazette either, He sued the paper in 2010, as reported by Chris Dickerson, then editor of The West Virginia Record ("Judge sues Gazette, Mingo sheriff for ‘libelous’ article," 4/15/10).


Ray Manzarek, ¡Presente!

Just having learned of Ray Manzarek's death,  I listened again to Guy Raz's NPR interview with The Door's co-founder and keyboard player (and classically trained organist) on development of Light My Fire. Manzarek says he was inspired to form a group after hearing John Coltrane playing My Favorite Things.

Manzarek had been set to tour Europe with The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger starting June 26 in Russia.

And although he was glad to keep the music of The Doors alive, he also had a contemporary musical life in his partnership with slide guitarist Roy Rogers. 

Here's an interview with them from 2011 another with from January 2013 on their second album  Translucent Blues, issued by Blind Pig Record May 24, 2011.  March 3, 2013 Manzarek and Rogers announced they had wrapped on their third album, Twisted Tales.  April 19, they performed a set from their second album in Live Oaks at the Wanee Music Festival.  Here's a recording.

BTW, Manzarek had a memoir Light My Fire which came out in in 1999. In 2002, he published a novel, The Poet in Exile, based on the premise that Morrison was sending him postcards, not from beyond the grave, but from a remote island in the Indian Ocean, where he lives, happily married and father of two children, having faked his death and freed himself from his demons.


Jon Foley: "To live for people that you, yourself, might not even live to see."

Jon Foley in a screen shot I edited from his PBS NewsHour video.

Today Foley shared the graduation address he gave for the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education and gave me permission to publish it here.

Foley (website, twitter, email, facebook) is the Director of the University of MN's Institute on The Environment (IonE).  Below his address, see my thoughts...



Thank you all for the opportunity to share this day with you. I especially want to thank Dean Mary Nichols, who asked me to be here today.

It’s really an honor to speak at the graduation ceremony of the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education. You are an extraordinary group of students. Some of you have created your own degree programs, others have finished advanced degrees; many of you did this while working or raising a family. You have shown us how to work harder, be more committed, and be more creative. You have shown us the best of the University of Minnesota, and we’re all extremely proud of you.

I’m not exactly sure what Dean Nichols had in mind when she asked me to speak at your ceremony. Normally, I speak about global environmental issues and international affairs. But I really don’t think that you want to hear a speech about the greenhouse effect or tropical rainforests today. Instead, I’m guessing you want to hear something more inspiring.

I’m probably not qualified to do that, but I’ll see what I can do.

Part I. Ordinary People

To start off, I want to tell you the stories of ordinary people – ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

The first person I want to tell you about was named James Edward, or J. Edward for short. He was born in 1878. His father was an Irish-American bricklayer who worked himself to death at the age of 32, when J. Edward was only a little boy.

Even though he was only a child, he had to start working to support his mother and siblings, and he worked every day of his life until he turned 90. His story is the quintessential American story: He started with nothing – no money, no connections, and no education – but he worked incredibly hard, focused on helping his family and his community, and eventually became a successful businessman and community leader.

Years later, as he lay dying, his family got a little bigger: two days before he died, he became a grandfather one more time. His daughter-in-law was giving birth in the same hospital, one floor away.

Now I want to tell you the story of the mother. Her name was Joan, and she gave birth to a little boy. But there was a problem: The boy was born with a severe bacterial infection that covered his entire body, and he was not expected to live through the night. But Joan refused to accept that, and she took the boy home to take care of him, knowing that leaving him at the hospital was a death sentence.

She went without sleep for days, popping every blister on the skin of that screaming infant, boiling every scrap of fabric that touched his skin, and managed to keep the infection at bay. The boy lived. For years afterward, doctors told her that she saved her son’s life. Without her determination, there was no chance he would have survived.

Like her father-in-law, she stood up when the chips were down, and gave everything she had for someone else. And that boy grew up knowing that he owed his life to his mother.

Unfortunately, his story was going turn out differently.

He could not help his mother when, 15 years later, she was diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gerhig’s disease) – a fatal, degenerative neurological disease. He could do nothing while she was in agony, slowly dying in front of him. Here was the woman who gave him his life, and then against all odds saved it, and he was completely powerless to help her. That feeling of helplessness still haunts him to this day.

The last thing his mother told him was that she was ready to die – it would release her from the incredible pain she was in – but she “wasn’t done yet” being his mother. Her last words to him were, “I can’t be there for you any more, so I need you to promise me something. I need you to be the best person you can be.”

She gave him one last gift: the gift of setting a lifelong direction. And that boy swore that he would do everything he could to follow it.

She died the next day. And he has been trying to figure out how to live up to that promise ever since.

As you might have guessed, I was that boy. (Forgive me for being a little choked up, but I have never spoken publicly about this before today.)

My mother, Joan, and grandfather, J. Edward, were ordinary people, but they did extraordinary things.

When things became difficult, they didn’t wallow in their sadness or self-pity: They rolled up their sleeves and did something for those around them, and for those that would live long after them. In short, they lived good lives, and they gave something to the future.

I bet you all have stories like this in your family too. Mine isn’t unique or special at all; it’s just the one I happen to know. You all have other versions of the same story – of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. And I think we should all give thanks to them today, on the occasion on your graduation.

Part II. The American Dream

What did these people – in your family and mine – all have in common? They all lived according to a dream – something we used to call the “American Dream”.

Unlike the current so-called American Dream – which seems to be about getting rich quick, without working very hard, having a fancy house and car, and living like there’s no tomorrow – the old American Dream is about building a better future for our families and our communities. It’s a dream that I still believe in, not out of some dopey sense of patriotism, but out of a sense of awe.

It’s a dream that says we should work hard, play by the rules, give something back to our community, and make sure our children have a better life than we did.

It’s a dream that says creating a better future for our families, our community, and our world is more important than living comfortably in the present.

This dream isn’t uniquely American, of course. Many people and cultures around the world share the values of hard work and building a better future for our children. But it’s the dream that built this country.

But lately many of us seem to have forgotten that dream. In fact, today we hear people say that we should try to live “in the moment”, as if that’s the secret to a meaningful life.

I don’t believe that.

The lesson our ancestors taught us is that the most meaningful life is not the one lived for ourselves, but it is the one lived for others. They taught us that the key to a great life is to live for people that you, yourself, might not even live to see.

Why have we forgotten this important lesson?

Part III. Inflection Point

Today, it is critically important for us to remember the lessons of our ancestors.

In fact, in the whole sweep of human history, there has never been a more crucial moment to live up to their example. Why is that? It’s because the world is under more pressure now than it has ever been.

Consider the following. Between 1960 and 2010, a period of only 50 years (roughly the lifetime of many of us in this room), the world’s population more than doubled, and the world’s economic output increased by seven fold. Imagine that: Twice as many people, with an economy seven times bigger! That growth required a three-fold increase in water use, a three-fold increase in food consumption, and a four-fold increase in global energy use.

Not only did this period of time see more change than any other in history, it has changed more than all human history combined. In short, we are living through an inflection point in the history of our civilization.

In many ways, the world has been getting better. We are living longer, more prosperous and safer lives than anyone else in history, largely thanks to the hard work of previous generations.

But we still face the specters of poverty, inequality, disease, environmental degradation, and climate change. We need to start changing our ways and remember the lessons of our ancestors, or we will leave behind a degraded and more impoverished world for future generations.

Whether we like it or not, the fate of the world depends on what we do now. What we decide to do with this time – our time – in history will not only have impacts on the lives of our children, it will shape the world for thousands of years to come.

You and I didn’t ask to be here. But here we are. And we are in the drivers seat in the most important moment in human history.

So what are we going to do with it?

Part IV. Hope and History

As we look to the future, what lessons should we follow to help guide us along the way?

First, I think we should be guided by hope. Not a blind optimism that everything will work out somehow, but rather a rock-solid faith in humanity – a faith built on knowing that, at our best, we can be an amazing people.

And I think we need to be guided by a sense of history. We are at our best when we see that we are connected to those who came before us, those we share the world with today, and those will come after we are gone.

I think we’re supposed to play a part in the great, unfolding drama of human history. We are only here today because of the sacrifices, hard work, and accomplishments of countless generations before us. And I believe that we have a moral responsibility to take our turn at the wheel, and play our part of this continuing drama.

Of course, we could view this as a burden, but I see it as an incredible gift – a way to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

And have no doubt: What we do with our lives can have a real impact on the world, today and for generations to come.

Part V. Final Wish

So, what will you do as you move into the next chapter of your life, with your new knowledge, your new skills, and your new degree?

My hope for you is that you do something great, to live a good and meaningful life, and to make sure you give something to the future.

And I hope one of your children or grandchildren will be on this stage in 2078 – 65 years from now, 200 years after my grandfather was born – telling stories about you, and the great things you did for the them and for the world.

I’m sure they will be incredibly proud of you. I know we all are.

Thank you for the chance to speak to you today.

And congratulations to the Class of 2013!


My thoughts on Foley's address

The graduation of the Class of 2013 is on my mind, as here in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech graduated yesterday. 

I "met" Foley on Facebook, when he sent me a "friend invite."  Usually, I only respond to folks I know either through interaction in life or correspondence, but I found Foley's work interesting and was flattered he'd want to connect.

The IonE, which he directs, participates in the Natural Capitol Project with Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, several government agencies and others "to develop new approaches to integrating economics and ecology—with a focus on how to assess the value of 'ecosystem goods and services.'"

In the video from which I took the screen shot,  Foley talks about how farming is "canary in the coal mine" for climate change and that long term we need to do more than adapt.  While "goods and services" help us make an argument for environmental integrity, I'm also concerned about how we can go further.

For instance, I guess
Ed Rehbein could take a photograph if there is only a single stand of wild columbine left, but I remember how the late Larry Gibson and Judy Bonds and so many others describe (and mourn for) mountains such as Kayford and Coal River in WV.

They, as  Foley and his grandfather and mother, live to make things better not just for their family (and friends and communities), but "for people that they  "might not even live to see."


Of Hatfields, McCoys and the (Cancelled) 2013 West Virginia Book Festival

I'll admit I didn't watch the History Channel  2012 series on the Hatfields and McCoys 

Although I LOVED Costner in Bull Durham, Altina Waller convinced me that the series he starred in  might raise my hackles with its over-simplistic depiction of Appalachia.

Waller's  the author of Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 1988, 313 pp.) and she wrote an article critiquing the series for  the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader: "Hatfield-McCoy: Economic motives fueled feud that tarred region's image."

Nor did I know Dean King studied the feud until I read the West Virginia Book Festival's blog

I learned about the Richmond-based author (website contact form, twitter, fb) when I read the Festival's (twitterannouncement  on  that  Little Brown published King's  The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys, The True Story  May 14, 2013. His book includes quotes from contemporary newspaper accounts. King also appeared in an accompanying documentary on the History Channel(IMDB listing), which was also narrated by Costner and produced, not in Romania as was the series, but in WV and KY. 

I love the West Virginia Book Festival

The Festival is where, in 2010,  I got to have a reunion with Irene McKinney, the late poet laureate of West Virginia, after we first met at the West Virginia Writers Mountaintop Removal Tour in 2006.  The Festival is so popular that last year, the vendor spaces had sold out by May.

I thought Dean King must be coming to the Festival in October and that I'd like to hear him speak. It turns out, though, he will be speaking at the Elk Valley Branch library June 3 at 6:30.  It's hard to justify a trip that's longer than the King's lecture.  And then there are the tolls.  I probably won't be driving up to Elk Valley unless I can combine King's talk with other events.

Why King won't be at the Festival in 2013

The Board of the Kanawha County Public Library voted March 11, 2013 to cancel the shebang in hopes of saving about $100,000--$90,000 for the annual budget plus labor from paid employees. That's because the county library lost 40% of its funding when the WV Supreme Court ruled  in February in favor of the School Board that it should not be required to support the library:  the special act  of 1957 which required nine of the state's 55 counties to set aside money for their libraries was unfair. Mackenzie Mays (email, twitter, fb), the education writer for the Charleston Gazette has a good explanation here.  Shay Maunz (email, twitter, fb), who has the same position at the Charleston Daily Mail does a good job of explaining the library board's actions here. While those minutes are no longer available online, I was able to retrieve the follow-up discussion of April 8, 2013.

While the West Virginia Humanities Council is a charter sponsor of West Virginia festival, along with the Charleston newspapers and others, staffing and operational support comes primarily from Kanawha County Public Library.  Pam May,  Marketing Supervisor for the library (email, twitter) has chaired the festival since 1997. 

Why I was hoping to hear Dean King there

I'd like to compare King's take on the feud and the series with that of  Waller. Here's what she wrote in her Herald-Leader piece:

What happened was that politicians and businessmen in Kentucky learned that the Tug Valley, up until then considered the backwater of the state, contained valuable resources...Perry Cline [who had lost land to the Hatfields and demanded revenge]...was able to convince the governor that the barbaric Hatfields stood in the way of economic development.

Only this potential economic bonanza can explain why the governor would respond to Perry Cline's rants against the Hatfields and his demands for revenge.

[Cline]...brought about the worst violence along with national notoriety. Eight of the desperate Hatfields attacked the McCoy cabin, killing two children. Both governors authorized posses to do battle on the border and bounty hunters appeared in great numbers.

Most of the initial newspaper reports came from Cline, who was able to portray the Hatfields as the uncivilized barbarians. Yet, in the end, all mountaineers came to be tarred with that brush. The civilized capitalists who built railroads and coal mines were delighted to portray all mountaineers as ignorant, immoral and violent, arguing that economic development — railroads and coal mines — would bring civilization to the region.

What it did bring was more violence and more poverty.
Thus, the context that most helps to explain the feud is not the old rivalries of the Civil War but the agricultural crisis and rapid economic exploitation of the region occurring at exactly the same time as the events of the feud. That coincidence of timing alone suggests we take seriously the relationship between them.
I'm wondering why there isn't more support for the West Virginia Book Festival

 You'd think the Charleston business and civic community would love the festival.  It seems it could help its state shine. It sure seems that's the case this requiem (illustration at the end of my post) which Gazette City Editor Greg Moore (email, twitter) wrote a for the festival March 13.
I can’t tell you how many people I talked to at the Book Festival over the past few years, or interacted with on Twitter, who were genuinely surprised to find an event like the Book Festival in Charleston, or in West Virginia.
Contrast this with Virginia Festival of the Book

Sure, Virginia Festival of the Book, (dates for 2014 are March 19-23) has the resources of  the Virginia Commission for the Humanities behind it.

But besides having more staff support  than its West Virginia counterpart, the Virginia Festival succeeds in making the argument about its economic and reputational value. As Bryan McKenzie wrote in March in the Daily Progress about the Virginia Festival of the book:
Business officials say the book festival is a black-ink event, bringing money into the local economy through meals and hotel stays. The festival's importance, however, is less in its financial boon and more in its image boost.
Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce told McKenzie,
The ability to identify yourself as a literary community has a positive impact in a variety of ways....You have people who come to town, attend literary events and return to their home communities telling their friends about what a great place this is. That word-of-mouth pays off in tourism and other ways....The book festival is a great way for Charlottesville to shine....It's good advertising for the community. There's nothing bad about good press.
Isn't folks' surprise about the WV Book Festival an indictment of  West Virginia stereotypes?

 West Virginia has outstanding writers, both natives and long-time residents-- including Denise Giardina,  poet laureate Marc Harshman, Grace Cavalieri, Maggie Anderson, Pinkney Benedict, Ann Pancake, Jayne Anne Phillips, Homer Hickman and Kate Long.  (Not to mention the late greats including,  besides Irene, Pearl Buck, Mary Lee Settle, John Knowles and Breece Pancake.)

And yet, the state continues to be known more for the Hatfield and McCoy feuds and  mountaintop removal coal mining.

The WV Division of Tourism touts the economic value of  travelers to the state.  Can it help the library reinstate the Festival?


Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine by erjohn1423
Wild Columbine, a photo by erjohn1423 on Flickr (all rights reserved).
Ed Rehbein of Beckley (website, email, resume) took this photo of wild columbine, one of my favorite wildflowers, on April 7, 2012 on the Little Blue Stone River in Summers County, WV.

The native perennial, a member of the buttercup family, blooms from April to June in these parts in the woods, on rocky ground and on open slopes.

Dr. Kathleen Shea (website, email ), Professor of Biology and Curator of Natural Lands at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota writes that one of the common names, Culverwort (from the Saxon word culver meaning pigeon and wyrt meaning plant) suggests how the flower resembles "a circle of pigeon heads."

She has a wealth of other information on this wildflower and others at the Natural Lands website.  To confirm which plants are also native to our region, you can cross reference Shea's site with Common Summer Wildflowers of West Virginia which Norma Jean Venable (bio) compiled with the help of the late William N. Grafton (bio) when they were both Extension Specialists for WVU.


Come on NBC: COMMUNITY: Six Seasons and a Movie

Tonight was the season four finale of Community, ""Advanced Intro To Finality." The season began with a delayed and rocky transition after the firing of creator Dan Harmon, but has been finding its legs in the past few episodes.  Tonight, a return to the darkest timeline as Jeff graduates.  And lest you think that Megan Ganz (one of the early writers, who left the show in January) ended things too sweetly, see the Troy and Abed show that wraps up the episode...  I hope there's a season five and that Jim Rash writes another episode.

As I write this at 11:39 p.m., NBC still hasn't decided to renew (having waited until today to announce the renewal of Parks and Recreation. 

I'll finish writing about this episode tomorrow, but until then, here are some stills (except for the screenshot of Brita):