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Supreme Court asked to suspend Mingo prosecutor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks could have his law license suspended Friday, after prosecutors said he was part of a conspiracy to shut down a federal investigation into the Mingo County sheriff.

The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition Thursday afternoon asking the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend Sparks' license.

The petition, filed by chief ODC attorney Rachael Cipoletti, states that Sparks poses "a substantial threat of irreparable harm; he is unable and/or unwilling to represent the interests of the citizens of Mingo County."

Supreme Court justices met Thursday evening about whether to suspend Sparks, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy.

"An order is anticipated Friday," she said.

According to Thursday's filing, Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, Sparks, Mingo Sheriff Eugene Crum and Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden conspired to interrupt a federal investigation into Crum, and cover up allegations that Crum illegally received prescription painkillers from a convicted drug dealer.

Crum was killed as he sat in his cruiser in downtown Williamson on April 3. Sparks said earlier this week that he would step away from the trial of Crum's alleged killer, Tennis Maynard.

Sparks could not be reached by the Gazette on Thursday. In an interview with the Williamson Daily News, he denied playing any role in the alleged conspiracy and said Thornsbury had wrongly implicated him.

"I fully expected Judge Thornsbury to engage in dishonest measures and to make false allegations against me, to exact vengeance against me in retaliation for my cooperation with his federal investigation," Sparks told the Daily News.

The ODC confirmed last month they were investigating Sparks after Thornsbury's initial indictment, on charges he conspired to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary's husband. That indictment states that Sparks knew at least some of what Thornsbury was allegedly plotting.

Sparks told the Gazette at that time that he didn't report Thornsbury's alleged misconduct because he was working in an "intimidating environment."

The ODC's petition Thursday states that Sparks' license to practice law should be suspended until disciplinary proceedings are completed.

Attorneys are required to report judicial misconduct, according to the state Bar's rules of professional conduct for lawyers; prosecutors are held to an even higher standard of conduct.

"Ethical violations by a lawyer holding a public office are viewed as more egregious because of the betrayal of the public trust attached to the office," the petition states.

State law says that the Supreme Court must notify a lawyer of the disciplinary charges against him within 30 days. The lawyer can then request a hearing on the charges. After a hearing, the Supreme Court may suspend the lawyer or take other action. The Supreme Court may also appoint a trustee to represent the interests of a lawyer's clients during the process.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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