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County takes more from Plants’ budget to pay for special prosecutor

By Rusty Marks, Staff writer

Kanawha County commissioners took more money Tuesday from the budget of Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants to pay for a special prosecutor appointed to handle child abuse cases after Plants was charged in connection with the beating of his son.

In April, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ordered Plants and his staff from handling cases involving child abuse and neglect, violent crimes against children by their parents or guardians, or criminal violations of protective orders after Plants was arrested and charged with domestic battery for allegedly hitting his son with a belt and violating a protective order not to have contact with his ex-wife or children. Retired assistant prosecutor Don Morris was appointed to handle those cases until Plants' legal troubles are resolved.

Since then, the county commission has paid $64,000 in legal fees to Morris and to Sid Bell, a special prosecutor appointed to handle the criminal case against Plants.

"It's a total waste of taxpayer money," County Commission President Kent Carper said at a special meeting Tuesday called to talk about ways to keep funding the special prosecutors.

Last month, Plants and the County Commission agreed to take $50,000 from a drug forfeiture account in Plants' office to help offset the costs of the special prosecutors. Plants also agreed to give up an additional $25,000 from his regular budget.

But Carper and Commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores don't think it will be enough. After nearly three months, Morris is costing the county about $30,000 a month, and it will take at least another five months before Plants completes an anti-battering program that may result in criminal charges being dismissed.

"It's almost a quarter of a million dollars for eight months," said Hardy.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted to take another $30,000 from Plants' drug forfeiture account, and decided that $17,000 of the $25,000 in budget cuts Plants proposed last month would come from the prosecutor's travel account. Another $8,000 will come from supplies.

Carper said the commission could have taken all of the prosecutor's travel account, but assistant prosecutors are required to take continuing education classes every year. "We're not going to punish the innocent prosecutors because of one person's inability to do what they're supposed to do," Carper said.

County commissioners are still hoping Plants will resign to save taxpayers money. "This entire situation can be resolved with the stroke of a pen, by the person who created the conflict," Hardy said.

The County Commission meets again July 24. By then, commissioners will know whether Plants has started the anti-battering program, and state court officials may have decided whether Plants should be removed from office.

If not, Carper suggested the County Commission could start proceedings to have the prosecutor removed from office.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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