Special Prosecutor Believes Mark Plants Deal is Legal

By: WSAZ News Staff, Amanda Barren Email
By: WSAZ News Staff, Amanda Barren Email

UPDATE 6/26/14 @ 7:45 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The special prosecutor assigned to the Mark Plants case says he believes the latest deal reached in the case is legal.

Sid Bell sent a letter to Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia in response to the Putnam County not allowing Plants into its Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPPS).

"According to Lisa Tackett with the state Supreme Court of Appeals, if the magistrate made the possible dismissal of charges discretionary instead of mandatory, the "Pretrial Monitoring Order as a Condition of Bond" would follow the approved practice of the Kanawha County DN Court, would comply with state law and would avoid any problems with grants that discourage or do not allow pretrial diversion agreements," Sid Bell writes in the letter. "In her opinion, the fact that this Kanawha County resident would be ordered to participate in the Putnam County Day Report Program would not render the agreement unlawful or jeopardize the grants that help fund the Putnam County program."

During a hearing Tuesday, Plants agreed to enter that program and be under the supervision of Putnam County's Day Report staff. If he successfully completed the program, both charges would be dropped.

However, Prosecutor Sorsaia sent a letter Wednesday to Plants' attorney, James Cagle and Sid Bell, the special prosecutor, assigned to his case that says Plants won't be accepted into the program.

Sorsaia said the agreement is not only potentially contrary to State Law, it would also violate Community Correction Grant Provisions.

"I am of the opinion that this agreement is arguably an attempt to circumvent the legal restrictions regarding Pre Trial Diversions. We can change titles of documents, and call it an amendment to conditions of bond, but in reality it is a Pre Trial Diversion Agreement that states that if certain conditions are met the State will then drop the charges," Sorsaia writes in the letter. "Obviously, I am not a Judge wearing a robe, and I have no standing to rule on the propriety, but I must advise our program as to whether or not Mr. Plants is illegible to participate."

Bell disputes that claim and says Plants is "eligible for this type of order so long as he is ordered to participate in a community corrections program and the future disposition of the criminal chargers is not guaranteed in the order."

Bell says he plans to meet with Plants attorney, James Cagle to change some wording in the original order.

"I will ask Mr. Cagle if his client will agree to modify the sentence in the order to state that the prosecutor "may" move the court to dismiss the charges if he successfully complies with and completes the terms and conditions of the pretrial monitoring order, Bell writes in the letter. "Unlike the original pretrial diversion agreement, this order requires the defendant to participate in the community corrections program and to successfully complete the BIPPs class. We wanted him to take the
class in Putnam County because it is a highly regarded program and would avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in Kanawha County."

Plants has been arrested twice. He is accused of excessively disciplining his son with a belt and violating the order to stay away from his kids and ex-wife.

If Plants would complete this program those two charges could be dropped. The program is expected to take eight months. During that time, Kanawha County would have to continue paying a special prosecutor to handle cases similar to Plants.

One commissioner estimates that could cost more than $200,000.

Earlier this week, Commission President Kent Carper released a statement saying "this enormous expense is a matter of great public concern."

On Wednesday, Kanawha County received its second bill from the special prosecutor, Don Morris, who was appointed to handle cases similar to Plants after he and his office were disqualified. The second bill totaled $29,850 for 149.25 hours of work.

The county has also paid Sid Bell $9,070 for his work. County officials say they have only received one bill from Bell, but expect another to arrive any day.

A spokesperson says that brings the total the county has paid out for special prosecutors to $53,500.

Commission Carper says the pretrial monitoring agreement, and all other concerns related to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, will be discussed at Thursday night's county commission meeting.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 6/25/14 @ 12 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- For a second time, the deal reached in the case against Mark Plants appears to have fallen through.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia tells WSAZ.com the Day Report Center is not allowing Plants into its Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPPS).

During a hearing Tuesday, Plants agreed to enter that program and be under the supervision of Putnam County's Day Report staff. If he successfully completed the program, both charges would be dropped.

However, Prosecutor Sorsaia sent a letter Wednesday to Plants' attorney, James Cagle and Sid Bell, the special prosecutor, assigned to his case that says Plants won't be accepted into the program.

In the letter, Sorsaia explains why Putnam County's program can't accept a pre-trial diversion case relating to domestic violence.

Sorsaia says the agreement is not only potentially contrary to State Law, it would also violate Community Correction Grant Provisions.

"I am of the opinion that this agreement is arguably an attempt to circumvent the legal restrictions regarding Pre Trial Diversions. We can change titles of documents, and call it an amendment to conditions of bond, but in reality it is a Pre Trial Diversion Agreement that states that if certain conditions are met the State will then drop the charges," Sorsaia writes in the letter. "Obvisously, I am not a Judge wearing a robe, and I have no standing to rule on the propriety, but I must advise our program as to whether or not Mr. Plants is illegible to participate."

Bell, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, tells WSAZ.com he wants to look at the letter more closely when he gets back into town and he expects to respond Thursday.

Bell says he has a lot of respect for Prosecutor Sorsaia and he's sure he's acting in good faith.

"We want to do it the right way," Bell said.

Bell says when considering this latest deal he looked at sample orders similiar to Plants and he even asked if there would be a problem if Plants would enroll in the Putnam program and he was told as long as it was court ordered it would be okay.

Bell says there are differences between counties and the programs offered. He says he will look at Sorsaia's findings more closely and respond accordingly.

Bell says if this deal doesn't work out, another court hearing will be scheduled and trial dates for both charges will be set.

Plants was arrested twice. He is accused of excessively disciplining his son with a belt and violating the order to stay away from his kids and ex-wife.

If he would have completed this program those two charges would have been dropped. The program was expected to take eight months. During that time, Kanawha County would have to continue paying a special prosecutor to handle cases similiar to Plants.

One commissioner estimates that could cost more than $200,000.



ORIGINAL STORY
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia is calling into question the legality of the program that attorneys involved in Prosecutor Mark Plants' case say he is going to take part in -- based out of Putnam County.

Sorsaia says, furthermore, Plants has not yet been accepted into the Batterer's Intervention and Prevention Program offered there.

Plants faces two misdemeanor charges. One is for using excessive force while spanking his son. The other was for violating a domestic violence petition put in place following the incident.

After a hearing Tuesday, attorneys for both sides announced the original plan to put Plants in a pre-trial diversion program was not a possibility because, by law, it was not allowed -- which is why they decided to enter him into the program in Putnam County.

Sorsaia said on Wednesday morning he will send a letter to the people who are involved in Plants' case, questioning the legality of this latest move. He fears that accepting Plants might not be legal based on the same reasons the original pre-trial diversion program was not an acceptable option.

Sorsaia says that if there if there is something that can demonstrate that accepting Plants into his county's program is legal, he will consider accepting him. But until he is 100 percent certain that this move is legal, nothing will be definite.

The Batterer's Intervention and Prevention Program would last 32 weeks. If Plants complied with all of the regulations in the program, the charges against him would be dropped upon completion.


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