Members of the Kanawha County Commission voted unanimously to start removal proceedings against Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants on Thursday.
Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores voted at a regular County Commission meeting to file a petition to have Plants removed from office because of the increasing costs of paying a special prosecutor to handle cases Plants is barred by a court order from taking, commissioners said.
Plants is facing misdemeanor charges alleging he struck his son with a belt and violated a protective order not to have contact with his children or ex-wife. Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ordered Plants and his office not to handle cases related to domestic violence or violation of protective orders until the charges are resolved.
Plants recently signed an agreement under which the charges may be dismissed if he completes a 32-week batterers intervention course in Putnam County, but members of the County Commission don’t want to keep paying a special prosecutor for that long.
The county has already paid about $92,000 for special prosecutors, and expects to pay about another $240,000 before the end of the intervention course.
Carper and Hardy said it was their financial duty to have Plants removed from office to save taxpayers money.
“We have a situation where, for eight more months, because of his misconduct — not the taxpayers of this county — we’re going to spend a quarter of a million dollars,” Hardy said. “I’m not going to sit by and write check after check after check for $30,000 while he sorts out his various and sundry problems.”
“All I want is my day in court,” Plants said following Thursday’s meeting. “Kent Carper and Dave Hardy are true politicians who lack integrity and character. They are political bullies who pounce on anyone who stands up to them.
“Well, I don’t run away from bullies,” Plants continued. “We will fight this in court, and the commission will continue to waste more money on a cause they’ve already admitted that they will likely lose.
“Instead of trying to play dirty politics, why doesn’t the commission request that the West Virginia Prosecutors Institute handle this conflict for free as is customary?” Plants asked. “Or perhaps reduce [special prosecutor] Don Morris’ hourly rate down from $200 an hour?
“This isn’t about saving tax dollars,” Plants said. “It’s dirty politics — which is business as usual for Kent Carper.”
Carper said the special prosecutor was ordered by the court, not the County Commission. He said he would not comment on Plants’ statement. “Name-calling, I’m just not going to respond to that,” Carper said. “I haven’t done that yet.”
Don Morris said he is currently overseeing about 500 cases that Plants’ office is barred from handling, a number he figures might be about 10 percent of the total caseload of the prosecutor’s office.
But Carper said domestic violence cases are important because the victims are usually women and children who need the protection of the law. “I have prosecuted domestic violence cases. I have arrested people on domestic violence cases,” said Carper, who is both a former assistant prosecutor and a former Charleston police chief.
Carper said Plants can’t fulfill his duty as prosecutor if he’s automatically barred from handling hundreds of cases.
Carper has been working with the county’s attorneys for several days on the petition to have Plants removed, and said the document is about 85 percent complete. County Attorney Marc Slotnick hopes to have the petition finished in time for the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 14.
Carper said Plants will be sent a copy of the petition before it’s filed and be given an opportunity “to explain his conduct.”
Once the petition for removal is filed, the state Supreme Court will appoint a special three-judge panel to decide whether Plants should be kicked out of office.
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