Kanawha Prosecutor Sends Proposal to Pay for Special Prosecutors

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email

UPDATE 6/3/14 @ 2:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After no one from the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office showed up at a special commission meeting to discuss Prosecutor Mark Plants personal legal issues, Plants sent a hand delivered letter to commissioners.

Plants sent the letter hours after the meeting. The letter included a proposal for Kanawha County Commission to approve what he says will save the county $111,592 for the two special prosecutors appointed due to his personal legal issues.

Kanawha County Commissioners called the special meeting for Tuesday to discuss how much the special prosecutors are costing the county and how to move forward. Commissioners asked the prosecutor's office to send a representative, but no one showed up.

During the meeting, commissioners voted to request $50,000 from the Prosecutor's Office drug forfeiture fund to help pay for the special prosecutors. Right now, $79,000 is in that account. Commission President Kent Carper said at the time if they denied the request, the commission would freeze the fund.

Currently, Plants and his office are disqualified from handling any cases involving domestic battery or domestic violence petitions. A judge put that order into place after Plants was charged with two misdemeanor charges.

The county is paying Don Morris $200 an hour as the special prosecutor to handle these cases. The first bill was for $24,000 for one month.

Plants is currently in a pre-trial diversion program. Under the plan, if Plants meets certain guidelines, the charges could be dismissed after 12 months. During that time, commissioners fear the county could pay up to $300,000 for a special prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Sid Bell, the other special prosecutor, who was appointed to investigate the case against Plants has also billed the county for his service. He's getting paid $125 an hour.

So far commissioners say they have paid nearly $40,000 for both special prosecutors.

Commissioner Dave Hardy has repeatedly asked Plants to resign over the past week due to the cost factor and distraction it's causing the office.

"This started as a private issue, but now it's a public issue," Commissioner Hardy said. "Plants needs to resign. If you care about the public then you do the right thing. That is to remove yourself from conflict."

In the letter, Plants sent commissioners Tuesday afternoon, he proposed three ways to save the county money, including an immediate transfer of $75,000 from the prosecutor's drug forfeiture account. He also proposed cutting $25,000 from his 2014-15 overall budget. The remaining $11,592 would be a waiver of Plants' salary increase.

Plants ended the letter by saying "As always, I look forward to working with the Kanawha County Commission to continue to serve the citizens of this county in the most cost effective manner possible."

Carper says he has some concerns about the offer, specifically the money from the office's overall budget. He says he wants to make sure an innocent employee doesn't lose his/her job because of this.

Carper says no decision will be made until the commission's next meeting on June 12.

"I wish we weren't in this position. Lives are at risk when prosecutor's office isn't functioning," Don Morris, special prosecutor, said.

Morris filed a response Monday to Plants' motion that he filed last week asking a judge to cut back Morris' hours, as special prosecutor to save the county money. Plants wanted the judge to select another special prosecutor and move Morris into a supervisor role, that would allow him to work fewer hours.

Morris claims in his response that the solution is potentially unethical and even illegal. Morris asked the court to deny the motion as well as prohibit the prosecutor's office from making future comments that would interfere with his office's operation.

Morris also wants the prosecutor's chief of staff to be sanctioned for filing the motion in the first place.

"We're buying our way out of this conflict. It's a very expensive fix," Hardy said.

Last week commissioners discussed the possibility of filing a petition to get Plants removed from office. Then, a three judge panel would decide if he should keep his job.

Commissioners didn't discuss this option very long during the meeting, but did say it was still a possibility.

Plants is expected in court on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. That's when a judge will consider Plants' motion on hiring another special prosecutor.

The misdemeanor charges were filed against Plants after police say he violated a domestic violence order. The other is a domestic battery charge after police say he used excessive force when disciplining his son.

WSAZ.com has put in several requests to interview Plants regarding this issue. We put another call Tuesday morning.

WSAZ.com will be at Thursday's hearing. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

ORIGINAL STORY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Kanawha County Commissioners say they are really disappointed no one from the prosecutor's office attended a meeting to discuss the personal legal issues facing Prosecutor Mark Plants and how it's affecting the county.

Kanawha County Commissioners called a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss how much it's costing the county and how to move forward. Commissioners asked the prosecutor's office to send a representative, but no one showed up.

Now the county plans to ask the prosecutor's office for funding.

Currently, Plants and his office are disqualified from handling any cases involving domestic battery or domestic violence petitions. A judge put that order into place after Plants was charged with two misdemeanor charges.

The county is paying Don Morris $200 an hour as the special prosecutor to handle these cases. The first bill was for $24,000 for one month.

Plants is currently in a pre-trial diversion program. Under the plan, if Plants meets certain guidelines, the charges could be dismissed after 12 months. During that time, commissioners fear the county could pay up to $300,000 for a special prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Sid Bell, the other special prosecutor, who was appointed to investigate the case against Plants has also billed the county for his service. He's getting paid $125 an hour.

So far commissioners say they have paid nearly $40,000 for both special prosecutors.

Commissioner Dave Hardy has repeatedly asked Plants to resign over the past week due to the cost factor and distraction it's causing the office.

"This started as a private issue, but now it's a public issue," Commissioner Hardy said. "Plants needs to resign. If you care about the public then you do the right thing. That is to remove yourself from conflict."

During the meeting, commissioners voted to request $50,000 from the Prosecutor's Office drug forfeiture fund to help pay for the special prosecutors. Commission President Kent Carper says if they deny the request, the commission will freeze the fund.

Carper says there are also other accounts that are public funds, not tax dollars that could be used. However, Hardy is against using those funds because that money could be used for other things that benefit people who live in the county.

"I was upset when they unfriended me," Carper said. "But they're going to have to come in here eventually."

Commissioners will send a written request to the prosecutor's office requesting they attend the commission's next meeting on June 12 at 5 p.m. to discuss this matter again.

"I wish we weren't in this position. Lives are at risk when prosecutor's office isn't functioning," Don Morris, special prosecutor, said.

Morris filed a response Monday to Plants' motion that he filed last week asking a judge to cut back Morris' hours, as special prosecutor to save the county money. Plants wanted the judge to select another special prosecutor and move Morris into a supervisor role, that would allow him to work fewer hours.

Morris claims in his response that the solution is potentially unethical and even illegal. Morris asked the court to deny the motion as well as prohibit the prosecutor's office from making future comments that would interfere with his office's operation.

Morris also wants the prosecutor's chief of staff to be sanctioned for filing the motion in the first place.

"We're buying our way out of this conflict. It's a very expensive fix," Hardy said.

Last week commissioners discussed the possibility of filing a petition to get Plants removed from office. Then, a three judge panel would decide if he should keep his job.

Commissioners didn't discuss this option very long during the meeting, but did say it was still a possibility.

Plants is expected in court on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. That's when a judge will consider Plants' motion on hiring another special prosecutor.

The misdemeanor charges were filed against Plants after police say he violated a domestic violence order. The other is a domestic battery charge after police say he used excessive force when disciplining his son.

WSAZ.com has put in several requests to interview Plants regarding this issue. We put another call Tuesday morning.

WSAZ.com will be at Thursday's hearing. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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