All three members of the Kanawha County Commission signed off on a petition Thursday to have Prosecutor Mark Plants removed from office.
Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores signed the petition to have Plants removed based on alleged neglect of duty, malfeasance and misconduct in office, violation of court orders and violations of the rules of professional conduct for lawyers. Attorney Melissa Foster Bird, who is representing the county for free, expects to file the petition in Kanawha Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Under state law, only one commissioner signature is required for the petition to move forward, but all decided to sign the document. Plants and the lawyers in his office have been disqualified from hearing cases involving domestic violence, violation of protective orders or abuse cases involving children after Plants was charged with misdemeanors for allegedly striking his son with a belt and violating a protective order banning him from having contact with his children or ex-wife.
But Bird said the criminal charges aren’t the basis for the removal petition. Instead, she said Plants cannot properly do his job because Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ordered Plants and his lawyers not to handle the cases from which he was disqualified. She also said he has made false statements in court pleadings and in public, and that the public has lost faith in his ability to prosecute all criminal cases.
“It is a very drastic measure to take someone out of office,” she said, but added that drastic measures were necessary in the prosecutor’s case.
Once the petition is filed in circuit court, it will be forwarded to the state Supreme Court, which will appoint a special three-judge panel to take evidence and decide whether Plants should be removed.
Since Plants was disqualified from handling domestic violence and other cases, the county has been paying a special prosecutor about $30,000 a month to cover the cases, and another special prosecutor to handle the criminal charges against Plants. Recently, the county had to call in a third special prosecutor after a conflict was declared because Plants’ lawyer was also representing a family court judge whom Plants’ office was prosecuting.
Bird said having Plants removed from office is necessary to save taxpayer money and restore faith in the prosecutor’s office.
Kimberly Yeager, a victims’ advocate for the Charleston Police Department for the past 20 years, agreed that domestic violence victims — more than 90 percent of whom are women — need to know whether or not they can trust the prosecutor’s office to protect and fairly represent them. She said the conflict of interest may be keeping women from leaving abusive relationships.
“Victims are staying in their homes waiting to see what happens before they decide to make that move,” she said.
Cynthia Wilson, a domestic violence survivor whose niece was gunned down in a West Side Taco Bell in 2008, said domestic violence victims deserve the protection of the court system. “I think the system should apply to all of us equally,” she said.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 304-348-1215 or follow @rusty_marks on Twitter.