Plants has big plans as Kanawha prosecutor

By Kelly Holleran | Dec 29, 2008


CHARLESTON -- Indicting criminals without delay and getting younger attorneys more involved in the circuit court level are two goals for newly elected Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants.

Both also were overarching themes from a 14-page list of recommendations Plants recently released.

They will take work, but Plants already has ideas on how to implement two of the concepts he deems important.

Recruiting experienced attorneys to be immediately involved with felony preliminary hearings is one step toward the quick indictment of criminals, Plants said.

Magistrate court has an increasing number of attorney and resources. By reducing the caseload of magistrate attorneys, Plants hopes it will free up extra time for them to do some work in circuit court.

"Right now, many magistrate court attorneys, frankly, are younger and inexperienced," he said. "I don't think they receive the training they deserve."

If each of the attorneys were given a mentor at the circuit court level, they would receive more, much-needed experience, Plants said.

Another recommendation included the implementation of a case management system that would keep tabs on thousands of crimes in Kanawha County and that would prevent cases from falling through cracks.

Currently, there is no centralized system to track criminal cases, Plants said. Instead, a few people in the prosecutor's office follow thousands of cases each year, which makes it difficult to keep tabs on criminals in the magistrate court system.

"The reason for having a case management system is to create accountability," Plants said. "I think accountability is wonderful."

The recommendations came from a transition team composed of eight committees -– an organizational committee, an indictments committee, a magistrate court committee, a law enforcement committee, a victims' advocacy committee, a juveniles committee, a minority issues committee and a community service committee.

The committees met with many people in their given field to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecuting offices.

Once that was completed, committees returned with the recommendations.

"I may adopt a lot of them (the recommendations); I may not for whatever reason," Plants said.

Other recommendations in the report include more attorneys to handle juvenile court cases.

"The current system staffs juvenile court with three attorneys that do nothing but juvenile court cases," the document says. "These three attorneys have to juggle cases among the seven circuit judges plus the juvenile referee. It can lead to a hectic and overlapping schedule."

The juveniles committee also recommended the aggressive prosecution of juvenile cases involving firearms.

"There have been several crimes committed in the recent past involving juveniles using guns to commit crimes ranging from malicious wounding to first degree robbery and murder," the document states. "If we target juveniles who are caught carrying guns today, we may save a life tomorrow."

The magistrate court committee suggested magistrates should be more informed about which offenders are repeat, violent, etc., and should sentence these offenders to jail time.

"Kanawha County Magistrates have been recently milder on sentencing offenders to jail time," the document states. "Support staff can help to provide Magistrate Court Attorneys with the criminal backgrounds of these offenders. If the Magistrates refuse to cooperate or sentence these offenders to jail time, the media could be used to expose the reluctance in sentencing the worst offenders to jail time."

The indictments committee recommended the prosecutor's office request an additional attorney position from the Kanawha County Commission.

"Because the number of felonies charged by way of warrant doubled between 2003 and 2007, and because we are on track to meet or exceed that new high in the current calendar year, we should request an additional attorney position from the Kanawha County Commission so that we can dedicate these resources to the preliminary hearing stage," the document states.

The law enforcement committee suggested a monthly meeting between department heads and the Kanawha County prosecutor to discuss specific investigations.

"This meeting will allow discussion of parallel investigations and will encourage the exchange of information with regard to ongoing investigations," the document states. "This meeting will also discuss the stages of specific investigations and follow up requests for Grand Jury Reports."

Already, Plants is busy and has made multiple appointments.

Maryclaire Akers will serve as his chief of staff, Ben Freeman and Dan Holstein will serve as his co-chief of staff and Suzette Raines will serve as his communications director.

"We are off and running," Plants said in the document.

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