CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Those with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel are calling for the suspension of Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants or his disqualification, along with the disqualification of the people who work in his office, from domestic violence cases involving kids.
The calls were part of a filing with the state Supreme Court on Friday.
In it, the group that oversees the conduct of lawyers said Plants had violated the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Earlier in the day on Friday, Plants was back in court to deal with several issues involving a domestic violence protective order filed against him back in February following a complaint alleging he “excessively disciplined” his son, aged 11.
He’s been charged with domestic battery for allegedly striking the boy with a leather belt more than ten times, leaving a long bruise. Plants’ attorney, Jim Cagle, has asked that the misdemeanor charge be dismissed by arguing, as a parent, Plants was “acting within a constitutionally protected right to control his child” at the time.
However, the filing from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel calls that a conflict in cases involving parents being prosecuted for allegedly abusing their kids. “Such representation may be materially limited by his own defense that such alleged criminal conduct is not a violation of the law,” the filing said.
“Under West Virginia law, there is no liability for the reasonable use of corporal punishment (by a parent) for disciplinary purposes,” Cagle wrote in his motion to dismiss.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper issued a statement on the ODC decision Friday evening:
“I have stringently adhered to requests by the officials conducting the various investigations regarding Prosecutor Mark Plants, to keep all matters involving the investigation confidential in order to allow them to carry out their responsibilities. In light of the clear and most serious findings and recommendations issued by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to the Supreme Court, released late this afternoon and in order to protect the integrity of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and its ability to properly prosecute future cases, I feel this matter must come to an immediate resolution. The Kanawha County Commission will take such actions as necessary when it is appropriate to do so.”
Mercer County Magistrate Mike Flanigan was appointed to hear the case because of possible conflicts with all of Kanawha County’s magistrates.
“I want to make sure, in this case, that we follow the rules as close as possible. That is very important,” stressed Flanigan. “The entire state is watching. This has to be done correctly.”
Plants was initially barred from seeing his two sons under the protective order. But Kim Aaron, a Kanawha County magistrate, modified Plants’ bond last month to allow him supervised visits with the boys. That was after Flanigan had been appointed the special magistrate in the case.
Flanigan said, under the law, it was up to him, not any other magistrate, to modify the bond.
Flanigan heard from Plants’ attorney James Cagle, who said his client has complied with a family court judge’s order to undergo counseling.
Cagle read from the report filed by Dr. Clifton Hudson. “We do not perceive any imminent safety threat to Mr. Plants resuming normal contact with his children. And we believe that a forced separation from their father is unlikely to be in the children’s best interest.”
The special prosecuting attorney assigned to the case, Sid Bell, said he had no objection to Plants continuing to see his sons, as long as the visits were supervised.
Flanigan agreed to modify the bond, letting Plants see his children under supervision and talk with them on the phone and via Skype.
Plants faces two trials, one for domestic battery, the other for violating a domestic violence protective order. He’ll be back in court on May 21 for a status hearing.
Plants declined to comment after Friday’s hearing.