Putnam County’s chief attorney says Kanawha Prosecutor Mark Plants can’t enter a “batterer intervention” program in the county.
Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia said Tuesday he didn’t know about an agreement between attorneys for Plants and Kanawha County before it was announced. The agreement, which could’ve led to the dismissal of domestic battery-related charges filed against the embattled prosecutor, seems to be illegal, Sorsaia said.
“It’s not somewhere I really wanted to go, but on the other hand, I didn’t have any choice because we were put there without any consultation,” Sorsaia said Tuesday afternoon.
“Sorry, I think it’s illegal.”
Earlier this year Plants was charged in connection to allegations he whipped his 11-year-old son with a belt and violated a subsequent protective order. Kanawha County appointed former McDowell County Prosecutor Sid Bell to serve as special prosecutor in the case.
Bell and Plants’ attorney, Jim Cagle, had previously proposed an “pre-trial diversion” agreement. The agreement also dismissed charges against Plants as long as he stayed away from his ex-wife, Allison Plants; agreed to supervised visits with his children; apologized and followed other steps.
However, Bell received multiple complaints about the agreement, arguing it’s not legal to create pre-trial diversions in domestic violence cases under West Virginia law.
Bell, Cagle and Mike Flanigan, the special magistrate appointed to the case, all signed off this week on a new agreement involving Putnam County. The agreement called for Plants to enter the Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program operated by the Putnam County Community Corrections Program.
Bell said he thought the new agreement resolved any legal issues raised about the previous agreement.
As county prosecutor, Sorsaia represents agencies and officials within the county, including the community corrections program. In a letter to Cagle and Bell, Sorsaia said he thinks the pair essentially agreed to the same arrangement but called it an amendment to conditions of bond.
“I’m the kind of guy that, the law is the law, and when you try to get creative with semantics to circumvent it, it usually gets you in trouble,” Sorsaia said in a phone interview.
The county was also concerned that accepting Plants into the program could force it to run afoul of the terms of the grant it receives from the state to run the program, Sorsaia said.
Because of the concerns, Sorsaia told the executive director of the program to cancel an assessment of Plants set for Thursday.
There could be a legal argument made that could change his mind. However, Sorsaia said this public rejection could have been avoided if anyone involved in the Plants’ case had contacted his office before moving forward with the agreement.
“If they had contacted us beforehand, we could have told them our feelings and maybe it wouldn’t have gone this way,” Sorsaia said.
Sorsaia stressed the lack of communication in the letter.
“In the normal course of business I would never publically (sic) second guess the decisions of a fellow prosecutor, or publically (sic) comment on the propriety of any plea agreement made in another county,” Sorsaia writes.
“But under the current circumstances Putnam County has been included in this agreement without prior consultation, and now we must make a decision.”
He added the office doesn’t typically accept people into the program who live outside Putnam County or are accused of committing a crime outside of Putnam County. However, he said he understands that there could be a conflict of interest for Plants to participate in such a program in Kanawha County.
Cagle and Bell didn’t immediately respond to Daily Mail requests for comment.
The Kanawha County Commission has consistently expressed concerns about Plants’ situation.
Commission President Kent Carper said Tuesday he had problems with the proposed agreement. Commissioners Dave Hardy repeated previous calls for Plants to resign.
The commission plans to again discuss Plants’ office Thursday during its 5 p.m. meeting.