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Ex-federal prosecutor takes over as Plants chief of staff

By Kate White, Staff writer

Former U.S. Attorney Charles “Chuck” Miller will take over as Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants’ chief of staff.

Dan Holstein, who serves in the position now, said he is voluntarily moving back into the courtroom as an assistant prosecutor. Plants called a Wednesday morning staff meeting to discuss the changes.

Plants faces charges of domestic battery of his 11-year-old son and violating a domestic violence protective order. His office has been barred from handling cases involving child abuse and neglect, violent crimes against children by parents or guardians and criminal violations of protective orders.

A longtime assistant U.S. attorney, Miller was appointed to serve as interim U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of West Virginia in 2001 by then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, after George W. Bush was elected president. Miller applied for the permanent appointment in 2001, but Bush appointed Kasey Warner instead.

In 2006, Miller again became interim U.S. attorney when the Justice Department removed Warner.

“You can’t have an asset like Chuck Miller and not use him,” Holstein said Wednesday. Miller worked as an assistant Kanawha prosecutor from 1977 to 1982 and then began working with the office again in 2011.

Holstein said he will be assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster’s courtroom. He’s served as chief of staff since 2011 and worked for the Kanawha prosecutor’s office about 12 years.

People might think it’s a demotion, Holstein said, “but I’ve done what I can helping Mark speed up indictments, that kind of thing. I feel like it’s time.”

Assistant Prosecutor Ken Starcher has been removed from Webster’s courtroom. Webster and Starcher had a public disagreement in April after a man allegedly sexually assaulted a woman when he should have been in jail.

Starcher said Wednesday that he had been assigned to handle “other duties,” but wouldn’t comment further. Assistant Prosecutor James Bailey — who said he was given permission to speak for Plants, who won’t return calls — said Starcher had been reassigned within the office, but wouldn’t say what he would be doing.

Earlier this year, Starcher called Webster out for not issuing a warrant and sending Michael Salisbury back to jail when he failed out of a drug-rehabilitation program last summer. Webster said she was never informed that Starcher failed out of the program, and pointed out a mistake Starcher made preparing an order to re-sentence Salisbury.

Starcher had signed off on an order that said Webster had sentenced Salisbury to 1 to 3 years when the judge had given him 3 to 10 years on a fleeing DUI charge.

Salisbury is awaiting trial on the sexual assault and kidnapping charges.

Holstein said the decision that he would be moved to Webster’s courtroom had been talked about for several weeks. He isn’t sure if the move will result in a pay cut for him, but wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

Miller will still handle some cases in front of Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky, according to Holstein. Erica Lord will assist Miller in Stucky’s courtroom.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom took Plants off the domestic-related cases after the city of Charleston filed a petition similar to the state Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel that said Plants’ had a conflict of interest. The petition said that Plants’ defense that he didn’t commit any crime creates a conflict for his office.

Bloom appointed former longtime assistant Don Morris as chief special prosecutor to handle those cases and sent three of Plants’ assistants to report to Morris.

Bloom criticized Holstein during a hearing last week for calling Morris’ $200 an hour salary “grossly excessive.” “Why are you meddling in a matter you have no standing to participate in?” the judge asked Holstein.

Two days after county commissioners discussed filing a petition to have Plants removed from office, Holstein asked Bloom to cut Morris’ hours and appoint an assistant prosecutor from Plants’ office to handle felony domestic-violence cases. That move wouldn’t require additional pay, as an assistant would maintain his or her current salary.

Holstein told Bloom he would be willing to join Morris handling domestic-related cases, adding he would love to get back to the courtroom.

Kanawha commissioners also have expressed their frustration with Holstein, after he declined their invitation to attend a commission meeting to discuss the special prosecutor’s office.

“This move is about maximizing the service to Kanawha County crime victims,” Plants said in a news release. “Dan Holstein is one of the top trial attorneys in our office, and Chuck Miller has a long history of being a top-notch administrator.”

Miller couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. Bailey said Miller was on his way to speak at a conference.

While Miller was U.S. attorney, he made a plea deal with Massey Energy subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. for the subsidiary to pay a $2.5 million criminal fine and plead guilty to 10 charges related to the investigation of the January 2006 fire that killed two miners at Aracoma’s Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

During the Jan. 19, 2006, fire, a crew of miners ran into thick, black smoke in their primary escapeway tunnel and had to try to find another way out of the mine. Two workers, Donald Bragg and Ellery Hatfield, became separated from the group, got lost, and eventually succumbed to the smoke.

The charges included one felony count of falsifying the mine’s record book to make it appear two different escapeway drills had taken place, and a misdemeanor count of failing to replace a ventilation wall that could have kept smoke out of the mine’s escapeway tunnel, a violation prosecutors said “resulted in the deaths” of Bragg and Hatfield.

At the time, Miller agreed not to pursue charges against the Massey corporate parent or any of its officers or employees, saying the government “does not have evidence” that Massey knew or approved of a felony count related to falsifying mine safety records.

Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield, windows of the miners, opposed the plea deal, saying prosecutors should pursue corporate executives from Massey, but U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. approved the plea arrangement.

Staff writer Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report.

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


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