Divorces are messy. Take the impassioned high that accompanies marital bliss, turn it inside out with infidelity, children, financial strains and you have an emotional nuclear blast. No one escapes unscathed.
Now play out that story in a very public way involving a person in a high profile position and you have the current turmoil involving Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants.
You’ve heard the story by now. Plants has an affair with an assistant in his office, Sarah Foster, who is married to a Charleston Police detective. Plants and Foster have a child together, split with their respective partners and marry.
Plants’ ex-wife, Allison, charges Plants punished their 11-year-old son excessively by beating him with a belt, leaving the child with a bruise. Plants counters that prior to the divorce, he and his ex always agreed on corporal punishment for their children. After an investigation, Plants is charged with domestic battery.
Plants encounters his ex-wife and their two children outside a drug store, resulting in a second criminal charge against him for violating a protective order she obtained following her accusation of child abuse.
The public, unable to look away, polarizes.
Is Plants, a former WVU football player, a hulking brute who beats his children, or a traditional parent who wants to ensure his children understand right from wrong?
Was Plants simply concerned about his two children being alone in their mother’s vehicle outside the pharmacy that night, or did he knowingly break the law by violating a court order?
Did Plants exhibit poor judgment by having an extramarital relationship with an office subordinate or did he find the love of his life as his first marriage disintegrated?
The questions are both awkward and inevitable.
I’ve talked to a number of people about this story in recent weeks who describe Plants as I would—a likeable guy, though I confess to no intimate knowledge of his personal life other than what has already been made public.
Plants’ fundamental problem is that he is the chief law enforcement official of the state’s largest county. Plants and his office prosecute people for the very crimes he’s accused of committing. And importantly, just like those defendants, he enjoys a presumption of innocence.
There is, however, resolution ahead. Plants will have his day in court on the two misdemeanor charges. Additionally, the state Supreme Court will take up the Office of Disciplinary Counsel’s recommendation that Plants be suspended or that his office be prevented from handling domestic violence cases involving children.
The rule of law and well-practiced procedures provide the basis for sorting out the legal questions here. These rulings will largely determine whether the two-term prosecutor can continue in his position.
The personal fallout from this very public divorce is another matter. Someone once told me, “You may not be married for life, but you are divorced for life,” meaning you and your ex must find a way to co-exist.
Here’s hoping that Mark and Allison Plants reach that place someday, and it won’t be on public display.