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Law firm to work for free to oust Plants

By Kate White, Staff writer

A national law firm with a Huntington office will represent the Kanawha County Commission pro bono in its attempt to remove Mark Plants as prosecuting attorney.

Melissa Foster Bird, an attorney with Nelson Mullins, said Monday she has already started work on a petition to have Plants removed. The firm took the case without charging its usual fees, she said, because of the amount of money Plants has already cost the county.

Last month, Kanawha commissioners voted unanimously to start removal proceedings against Plants, who faces two misdemeanor charges related to domestic violence.

Commissioners are paying a special prosecutor assigned to prosecute Plants and a special prosecutor assigned to handle domestic violence-related cases. In April, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom barred Plants’ office from handling certain charges of domestic violence. Bloom appointed former assistant prosecutor Don Morris to prosecute those cases and moved four assistants from Plants’ office to help.

During a July 24 meeting, commissioners said the county has paid about $92,000 for the special prosecutors.

“The citizens of Kanawha County and the state of West Virginia are paying for numerous people to handle these matters,” Bird said. “Nelson and Mullins thinks of this, not as much for the commission, while that’s obviously our client, but the work being done will benefit the state of West Virginia and Kanawha County.”

Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy said the commission will still pay the firm’s expenses, like travel and meals, but not its usual hourly fee.

“I think it’s community service in that they’re willing to help us remedy a very complex problem for the taxpayers,” Hardy said.

After the petition is filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, the state Supreme Court will appoint a three-judge panel to hear it.

“That panel would hear evidence and then make a recommendation that he should either be removed from office or permitted to continue,” Bird said.

Plants is charged with domestic battery of his 11-year-old after striking him with a leather belt and leaving a 6- to 7-inch bruise. Police also say Plants violated a domestic violence protective order, which barred him from having contact with his ex-wife and two sons, when he approached the boys when they were alone in their mother’s car outside a Charleston pharmacy.

In a deal with special prosecutor Sid Bell, a former McDowell County prosecuting attorney, Plants agreed to attend a 32-week batterer’s intervention program in Putnam County. If Plants completes the program, Bell will consider dropping the charges. As of last week, Plants hadn’t enrolled in the program.

After Plants was charged, the State Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees attorneys in the state, asked the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend his law license and/or remove his office from handling cases of domestic violence involving parents and minor children until it completed an investigation. The city of Charleston followed up with its own petition asking Bloom to bar Plants’ office from certain cases. Bloom ruled first and Supreme Court justices decided that was enough for the time being.

Nelson Mullins has a longstanding pro bono program that involves complex cases, corporate matters and legislative advocacy as well as individual representation, according to its website.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.


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