CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has recommended a public reprimand for former Kanawha prosecuting attorney Mark Plants in proceedings before the Lawyer Disciplinary Board.
Justice Beth Walker authored the majority opinion that was filed on June 1.
The Hearing Panel Subcommittee found that Plants had violated three provisions of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended him be publicly reprimanded and the pay the costs of the proceedings. Plants did not challenge the recommended sanctions.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel asserted that the appropriate sanction in Plant’s case was suspension for three months, but the Supreme Court did not agree.
Plants has been licensed to practice law in West Virginia since 2004 and was elected prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. He was removed from office in 2014 and now practices in South Charleston.
On Feb. 26, 2014, Allison Plants, Mark Plants’ ex-wife, reported to the West Virginia State Police that Mark Plants had injured their son by whipping him with a belt. The following day, she filed a Domestic Violence Petition seeking protection for herself and their two minor children.
On March 17, 2014, while the Emergency Protective Order was in effect, Allison Plants reported that in the parking lot at Fruth Pharmacy in Charleston, Mark Plants spoke to their two children at her vehicle and then spoke to her. Mark Plants admitted to speaking to the children, but denied speaking to his ex-wife.
Mark Plants was exiting the pharmacy as his ex-wife was entering the pharmacy and he observed his children waving at him from Allison Plants’ vehicle. He alleged he spoke with them and when Allison Plants returned to the car, he walked away.
On March 18, 2014, the state police filed a criminal complaint in magistrate court charging Mark Plants with violating the EPO based upon the incident.
On March 21, 2014, the family court modified the EPO and Mark Plants was given supervised visitation with the children and was now able to communicate with them.
On March 21, 2014, the state police filed a criminal complaint charging Mark Plants with domestic battery for the report from Feb. 26, 2014, and, on April 7, 2014, Mark Plants filed a motion to dismiss the charge on the grounds that he had the constitutionally protected right to discipline his child and that there is no liability for the reasonable use of corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes.
On June 19, 2014, the family court entered a 90-day Domestic Violence Protective Order at the final hearing to address the status of the EPO and the family court found that Allison Plants proved allegations of domestic violence and abuse.
On July 14, 2014, Mark Plants and the Special Assistant Prosecuting Attorney entered into a pretrial monitoring agreement as a condition of bond relating to both criminal complaints and Mark Plants agreed to comply fully with the provisions of the agreement for a period of six months or upon completion of the Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program class.
On May 21, 2015, the magistrate court dismissed both criminal complaints against Mark Plants based upon a joint motion in which the Special Prosecutor attested that he had successfully completed the BIPPS class and had not violated any terms of the monitoring agreement.
After the incidents that resulted in misdemeanor criminal complaints against Mark Plants, three collateral proceedings relating to his position as prosecuting attorney ensued. Mark Plants was removed from the office of prosecuting attorney in October 2014 for his conduct.
A three-judge panel further found that he had neglected his duties as prosecuting attorney by voluntarily agreeing to a disqualification that had, in effect, prevented him from giving appropriate attention to a substantial and important part of his statutory duties.
In October 2015, the LDB filed formal charges against Mark Plants alleging violations of conflict of interest, knowingly disobey rule of a tribunal, criminal act and prejudice to the administration of justice.
The HPS held a hearing in 2016 and concluded that he had violated the rules and recommended a public reprimand and payment of proceedings.
The Supreme Court adopted the HPS’s recommended sanctions.
The LDB was represented by Joanne M. Vella Kirby and Rachel L. Fletcher Cipoletti of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Mark Plants was represented by James M. Cagle.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 15-0957