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Kanawha prosecutor says he will fight to keep job

By Kate White, Staff writer

As Mark Plants begins a fight to keep his job as Kanawha County’s prosecuting attorney, he wants the county commissioners who are trying to oust him to answer a few questions about their spending and policies.

Last month, Kanawha commissioners voted unanimously to start removal proceedings against Plants, citing the rising cost of special prosecutors required since Plants was charged with two misdemeanor crimes related to domestic violence.

At the end of July, commissioners had paid about $92,000 for the special prosecutors -- one to prosecute Plants and another to prosecute cases Plants’ office has been barred from handling.

Plants said in a phone interview Tuesday that commissioners, however, shouldn’t be wasting their time trying to have him removed, but instead finding ways to save money.

Commissioners also aren’t considering the millions of dollars Plants says he’s saved the county in jail bills and through the collection of delinquent taxes.

“They’re going to all this trouble to remove me from office, spending time and resources. I wanna know why they’re not using that time and those resources to reduce the actual bill,” Plants said.

Plants sent an email to the county on Monday. It was in response to an emailed question sent by Commission President Kent Carper on July 17, which asks Plants to provide the number of felony and misdemeanor cases his office is handling. Carper asked for the information by July 21.

Plants responds to Carper that he will do his best to comply. On Aug. 1, Carper sent another email asking Plants again for the information. Plants states he will check to “see where we are on it.” And, in a separate paragraph of the email, asks County Manager Jennifer Sayre six questions.

“Could you let me know how much money the Prosecutor’s Office has returned to the Commission at the end of each year since 2009 ... For example, in 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office returned $69,000 to the Commission,” Plants states in the email. The information Carper requested was nearly completed Tuesday, Plants said.

Plants also asks for the amount the county has spent on legal fees since 2009, pointing out around $80,000 was spent on an attorney to represent County Clerk Vera McCormick in a lawsuit filed over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“I want the public to look at the legal fees they’ve spent. Why are they singling me out?” Plants asked.

The county plans to provide Plants with the information he requested, Carper said. Responding to Plants’ claim that commissioners should be trying to save money rather than have him removed, Carper pointed to a law firm the county hired Monday that agreed to work pro bono on the petition to have Plants ousted. Melissa Foster Bird, an attorney with Nelson Mullins, said Monday she has already started work on the petition.

The firm took the case without charging its usual fees, she said, because of the amount of money Plants has already cost the county, Bird said.

Other questions in Plants’ email, include: How much does the county pay a year for legal insurance coverage; how much does the county pay the state Prosecuting Attorney’s Institute to cover cases where the prosecutor’s office is conflicted; and, among other questions, what’s the highest rate per hour the commission has ever paid an attorney?

In April, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom barred Plants’ office from handling certain charges of domestic violence and appointed former assistant prosecutor Don Morris to prosecute those cases. Commissioners set Morris’ salary at $200 an hour.

Plants argues that amount is excessive and says Bloom should have asked the Prosecuting Attorney’s Institute to make an appointment to handle the caseload, because the commission pays an annual fee to be a member of the institute.

That wouldn’t have worked, though, according to the executive director of the institute, Philip Morrison.

“The judge can farm out cases, like 500 individual cases, which is what [the special prosecutor’s] unit is handling, roughly, but he can’t appoint people to go work in somebody’s office or work in a separate office,” Morrison said.

Despite Morrison’s statement that it couldn’t be done, Plants still believes it could have -- and still should be.

“For six months I stayed quiet and tried to get along and just do my job. My mom taught me not to say anything at all, if I couldn’t say something nice, but my mom called me after the commission voted to remove me and told me to let them have it,” Plants 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. Plants hasn’t yet enrolled in the program.

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


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