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Plants Arrest Raises Concerns About Prosecutorial Trust & Accountability

Reported: Mar. 31, 2014 10:30 PM EDT
Updated: Mar. 31, 2014 10:39 PM EDT

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) Mark Plants isn't the first area prosecutor to find himself in trouble with the law.

Most recently, Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks stepped down during the corruption investigation there. In a plea deal, Sparks gave up his law license and agreed to never run for elected office again.

Here in Kanawha County, prosecutor Mike Clifford was accused of misconduct and sexual harrassment. His dismissal was taken to a panel for review, but Clifford ended up stepping aside and not running for re-election.

And prosecutor Bill Charnock was investigated for possible election law violations and ultimately resigned.

Here's a look at what would have to happen to remove Mark Plants from office, And the bigger concerns this case is bringing to light

Bill Forbes is an attorney and served as Kanawha County's prosecutor for 12 years. Mark Plants is just the latest of his successors to now find himself in legal trouble. It's something Forbes says is just further chipping away at that office's reputation.

"People believe that you're on the right side of the law. I think it's a tragedy for the office. It's a tragedy for the credibility of the office. It's a disaster for Mr. Plants," said Forbes.

Forbes and other experts insist there are two potentially big problems for Plants and his entire office: first is public trust, and the second issue could come in prosecuting child abuse cases.

"The jury still decides, 'Do I want to agree with the prosecuting attorney or do I want to agree with the defense attorney?' To a degree, credibility comes into the mix--well to a great degree," said Harry Deitzler, WV State Bar Association President, attorney and former prosecutor.

"If you're standing up there saying, 'Don't pay any attention to what I did,'...It's a real difficult problem and nobody knows what the filtered effect of this is going to be, but it's not going to be good," said Forbes.

It's possible Plants could be kicked out of office, but it's not an easy process. State law requires a petition with at least 25 signatures. That ultimately goes to the Supreme Court, which appoints a three-judge panel to decide on if the prosecutor should be dismissed. So far, no one has stepped in to even start that process.

"Somebody needs to step in and stop this disaster before it really causes murderers to be released and child molestors to be released," Forbes said.

Plants could also be disbarred, preventing him from ever practicing law again. Anyone could file a complaint, with proof of misconduct, to initiate a disciplinary review.

"Should there be a way to procedure more oversight on the prosecuting attorney, and the procedure that we have is that the voters decide, and if somebody's not a good prosecuting attorney, then the voters replace that person with a prosecutor who does a better job," said Deitzler.

Kanawha County commission president Kent Carper agrees that the public's vote should determine whether mark plants keeps his job, but Plants isn't up for re-election for three more years.

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