Kanawha County commissioners are trying to figure out whether they can use an obscure section of the state’s tax code to remove Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants from office.
Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores are scheduled to discuss the procedure at a regular County Commission meeting on Thursday.
Plants faces misdemeanor criminal charges for allegedly striking his son with a belt and allegedly violating a domestic violence protective order barring him from having contact with his ex-wife or children.
But as legal proceedings drag on in resolving the charges against Plants, county commissioners are worried about the growing costs of paying a special prosecutor to handle domestic violence related cases Plants and his attorneys are no longer allowed to handle. The County Commission is spending about $30,000 a month for a special prosecutor under a court order from Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.
County officials are now looking at whether they can use a section of the state tax code to remove Plants from office.
The law, found under Chapter 11 of the state code, allows the state tax commissioner to start removal proceedings against certain court and law enforcement officials for “misconduct or negligence of officers.”
According to the code section, the tax commissioner can ask the circuit court to investigate allegations of misconduct or negligence of “any assessor, justice, prosecuting attorney, clerk of a court, sheriff [or] constable.” If found guilty, the official is fined up to $500 and removed from office.
Lawyers for the county are doing research now to figure out if they can use the law to have Plants removed.
“If the county attorney thinks we have a case, I would support it,” said Hardy. “It’s a legal question.
“The standard [for removal] is very high,” he said.
Shores could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, and Carper said he would wait until after Thursday’s discussion to comment on the section of law. But Carper did say he was concerned about Plants’ ability to keep doing his job.
Last week, Plants signed an agreement under which the criminal charges may be dropped if he attends a 32-week batterers intervention program in Putnam County. But Carper, Hardy and Shores don’t think county taxpayers should keep paying a special prosecutor while they wait that long. It’s also unclear whether the conflict would be resolved if the charges are dropped.
“I’m just following the court order that is in place,” Plants said. “I’ve offered a plan to substantially alleviate the costs, and look forward to working with the Commission on behalf of my constituents.”
It isn’t easy to have a county prosecutor removed from office. The state Supreme Court ordered former Logan County prosecutor John G. Sims removed from office in 1999 for ethical reasons, but a petition filed by Kanawha County officials to remove former prosecutor Mike Clifford failed.
In any event, commissioners agree any action to try to have Plants kicked out of office will take time.
“The fastest way to resolve this is for him to resign,” Hardy said.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1215 or follow @rusty_marks on Twitter.