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More money diverted to pay for special prosecutor costs in Plants case

By Matt Murphy, Local government writer
Mark Plants

Kanawha County commissioners continued to raid Prosecutor Mark Plants’ budget for funding for two special prosecutors Tuesday morning, this time taking a combined $55,000 among three accounts.

The latest funding sources include $17,000 from the prosecutor’s travel budget, $8,000 from his office supplies budget and $30,000 from the prosecutors’ drug forfeiture account.

“It’s a total waste of taxpayer dollars is what it is,” Commission President Kent Carper said. “I don’t see this going away anytime soon.”

Though the travel account is decreased, it still has about $10,000 left for use by the prosecutor’s office. That fund can be used for travel to required conferences and classes, among other things.

“We’re not going to punish innocent prosecutors,” Carper said. “It’s about one person’s failure to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Since April, the county commission has been trying to find ways to pay for Special Prosecutor Don Morris, who is prosecuting the county’s domestic violence cases, and special prosecutor Sid Bell, who is prosecuting the criminal case against Plants.

Morris is being paid $200 per hour and Bell is being paid $125 per hour.

Their services combined have already cost the county about $64,000, County Finance Director Kim Fleck said.

To this point -- including what the funds the commission added Tuesday -- the county has allocated a grand total of $205,000 for the special prosecutors.

That number also includes a $100,000 allocation from the county rainy day fund; and $50,000 from the prosecutor’s drug forfeiture fund.

The drug forfeiture fund has received additional deposits since the commission first took money from that fund, hence the new $30,000 amount taken Tuesday.

The special prosecutors cost the county about $30,000 per month, and the commission and prosecutor’s office have disputed for how long the arrangement will need to exist.

“If it continues for more than eight months, we’ll have to allocate more money,” Fleck said.

Carper said it should be known how long -- or even if -- Plants will serve in a batterer intervention program by the commission’s next meeting on July 24.

At the next meeting, Carper said he wanted to go over all options for how to pay for the special prosecutors, though he didn’t go into specifics Tuesday.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, and it may be a difficult one,” he said.

Commissioner Dave Hardy said he still is in favor of Plants resigning from office, noting that such an action would remove the need to have multiple prosecuting attorneys.

“Keep in mind, with the stroke of a pen, the conflict could be resolved by the party that created it,” he said.

Plants and his office are disqualified from prosecuting domestic violence cases because Plants faces charges of domestic battery and violating a domestic violence protective order. He is accused of whipping his 11-year-old son with a belt, causing a large bruise, and then later violating a protective order by having contact with his sons.

He and his legal counsel have recently proposed that Plants attend a “batterer intervention program” in Putnam County as part of a proposed deal to dismiss charges against the prosecutor. However, the status of that option is in limbo as attorneys and the courts decide if such a scenario is legal.


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