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Plants Faces Questions From Kanawha Commission Members

Reported by: Send eMail Kallie Cart
Reported: Jun. 26, 2014 7:24 PM EDT
Updated: Jun. 27, 2014 10:36 AM EDT

Plants Meeting
Eyewitness News Photo

Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia

Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants was once again in the hot seat Thursday.

County commissioners asked tough questions about the cost to taxpayers caused by the fallout from his arrest for domestic battery.

“The average taxpayers in this county should not have to pay for two offices,” Commissioner Kent Carper said.

It’s a growing frustration Carper, as the bill for two special prosecutors continues to build.

Sid Bell, who is prosecuting Mark Plants on domestic violence charges, has racked up $16,000 in legal fees so far.

Don Morris, who was appointed to hear certain domestic violence cases, after a conflict of interest was ruled with Plants' office, is estimated to cost taxpayers $30,000 a month.

Plants had proposed using $75,000 in drug forfeiture money, giving up his $11,000 pay raise for two years and eliminating $25,000 from his budget to help cover the costs, but Carper wants plants to do more.

“What I'm going to ask you to do is to is come up with an additional plan, if that means firing a couple people, then that's what needs to happen,” Carper said.

Carper is asking for a new plan, suggesting plants cut out $27,000 in travel, but stopping short of asking Plants to resign.

Earlier this month, Plants said he didn't intend to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The newest agreement in Plants’ criminal case would extend the need for a special prosecutor for eight more months, which would mean an estimated $240,000 in special prosecutor fees.

But Plants was asking commissioners to take into account other ways he said he has saved money during his time in office, pointing specifically to about $500,000 in savings in the county jail bill in 13 months.

But Carper said that was a commission initiative, which they instructed the prosecutor's office and circuit judges to get behind.

“If I save $150,000, at the end of the day, it’s a zero sum game,” Plants said.

In response, Carper said this isn't a game, and adds it was all preventable.

Carper also questioned if Plants' office will ever be able to start hearing domestic violence cases, even after he completes the batterers intervention program, or if the appearance of a conflict will remain.

Plants said that's a question for Judge Duke Bloom or the supreme court.

Fireworks were expected at a Kanawha County Commission meeting on Thursday.

Prosecutor Mark Plants was there to take questions from commissioners.

The biggest question will be, “When can the prosecutor's office start handling all cases again?”

Right now, the special prosecutor, Don Morris, is still in place handling several types of domestic violence cases.

He was appointed after Plants was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery and violating a protective order.

Under a deal reached just this week, Plants would enter a pre-trial monitoring program for 32 weeks. The question is, “Will taxpayers have to keep picking up the tab, over those 8 months?”

Right now, Morris' bill is about $30,000 each month.

The county also has to pay Sid Bell, who was appointed to try Plants' case. So far, his bill is topping $16,000.

On Wednesday, the Putnam County prosecutor called the latest deal illegal, and said he wasn't going to accept Plants into the program. But, on Thursday, Bell issued a letter standing by the deal. He said it was discussed with the interested parties and they agreed to it. He said, however, there was no guarantee that the criminal charges will be dismissed from Plant's record if he completes the program.

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