CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants reached another deal Tuesday with a special prosecutor handling the two misdemeanor charges Plants faces over hitting his son with a belt and violating a protection order.
Plants and longtime McDowell County prosecutor Sid Bell had reached a deal last month, but Bell said later that he realized that deal involved pretrial diversion — which Plants, as someone accused of a domestic violence crime, is ineligible for.
The deal announced in court Tuesday is instead called pretrial monitoring and will involve Plants going to the Putnam County day-report center and participating in the batterers intervention prevention program. If Plants completes the 32-week program, the charges against him would be dismissed.
“It’s a program designed to change attitudes and behavior to prevent something from happening like this again,” Bell said. “If [Plants] completes the class and does everything required of his bond, I’d be in a position to move the court to dismiss the charges. If he doesn’t complete the program successfully, we would come back and have trials on the two charges against him.”
Mercer County Magistrate Michael Flanigan, who was appointed to handle the case after Kanawha County’s magistrates recused themselves, went over the deal and set a compliance hearing for Aug. 27 in Princeton.
State Police charged Plants with domestic battery of his 11-year-old son after Plants left a 6- to 7-inch bruise with a belt on the boy’s leg. He is also charged with violating a domestic violence protection order that required him to stay away from his ex-wife and their sons.
The pretrial monitoring program is sometimes how cases under Kanawha’s domestic violence pilot program are handled. Kanawha County, the state’s most populous county, sees about 700 more domestic violence cases per year than any other county, according to the state’s Family Court Service Division. The pilot program consolidates domestic violence cases between Family Court Judge Mike Kelly and Magistrate Julie Yeager.
Because Plants lives in Kanawha, he’s eligible to participate in the pilot program, according to Bell, but to avoid any potential conflict of interest, he will be monitored in Putnam County.
Bell said he spoke with officials with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who supported the monitoring deal. After the initial deal involving pretrial diversion, the domestic violence coalition issued a public statement that said those types of deals jeopardize victim safety.
To make a deal in cases of domestic violence, West Virginia law requires defendants to participate in a community corrections program, like day report.
Flanigan said Tuesday he took full responsibility for approving the previous deal.
Under that arrangement, Plants’ charges would have been dropped after a year of not getting into trouble. He also agreed, under that deal, not to use corporal punishment as a way to discipline his two sons.
“I’m happy that the charges are going to be dismissed in a shorter amount of time than the last agreement,” Plants said after the hearing. “I’m going to move forward and do the job I was elected to do.”
In a family court order issued last week by Cabell Circuit Judge Patricia Keller that extended a protective order for 90 days, Plants also agreed not to use corporal punishment.
Plants wouldn’t comment about the conflict Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom said there was with Plants’ office handling cases involving domestic violence. It’s not clear if that conflict will be resolved if the charges against Plants are dismissed.
The city of Charleston filed a petition shortly after Plants was charged with the misdemeanors that asked the judge to remove Plants’ office from handling domestic violence related charges brought by Charleston police. Charleston filed its petition after the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees attorneys in the state, filed a similar petition asking the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend Plants’ law license or remove his office from cases of domestic violence involving minor children and their guardians.
Bloom took Plants’ office off all cases involving child abuse and neglect, violent crimes against children by parents or guardians, and criminal violations of protective orders. The judge appointed Don Morris and several of Plants’ assistants to handle those cases.
The Supreme Court ruled that because of Bloom’s order there was no immediate need to suspend Plants’ law license. The ODC is continuing its investigation.
Bell said Monday that West Virginia State Police were reviewing the information obtained after Bell filed Freedom of Information Act requests with County Clerk Vera McCormick’s office last month. The requests asked for records of Plants’ expenditures, including information about how drug forfeiture money was spent between 2009 and 2013, and information about pay and vacation time, among other things, for employees in Plants’ office.
State Police “are working on that case,” Bell said. “I’ll need to talk with them again in the next few days and decide what we’re going to do, if anything, in that part of the case.”
Meanwhile, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper noted that under the wage agreement with the special prosecutor, if Plants’ pretrial monitoring program lasts 22 to 32 weeks, “the considerable cost to the taxpayers will be a minimum of $250,000 to $300,000.”
“Clearly, this enormous expense is a matter of great public concern,” he said.
The commission will discuss the situation during its meeting on Thursday at 5 p.m., Carper said.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.