The state Supreme Court has refused to suspend embattled Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants' law license pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings against him.
The court denied the Office of Disciplinary Counsel's request for an immediate interim suspension, "pending the resolution of disciplinary proceedings" against Plants, charged with domestic violence and violating a protection order to stay away from his ex-wife, Allison, and their two sons.
The disciplinary counsel also had asked the court to order Plants to disqualify himself and his office "from instituting and prosecuting allegations of domestic violence involving a parent or guardian and minor child," but the justices pointed out an April 24 circuit court order appointing Donald P. Morris as Chief Special Prosecutor for Kanawha County "provide sufficient protection from any substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public pending the resolution of the disciplinary proceedings." Those orders should remain in effect until the disciplinary charges are resolved, the court said.
Given the cost involved with utilizing a special prosecutor, the court said the case against Plants "should continue toward resolution as expeditiously as possible."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he is calling a special commission meeting for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 3, to address the situation.
Carper said the commission will "completely and fully" abide by the supreme court's ruling, but underscored the court's insistence that the charges against Plants "should continue toward resolution as expeditiously as possible."
"That is exactly what I intend to facilitate to the best of my skill and judgment," Carper said.
At a special meeting earlier this week, WOWK reported commissioners were researching "successful removal cases" and that Commissioner Dave Hardy had called for Plants to resign.
The first bill for the special prosecutor's services was in excess of $33,000, they said.
The allegations against Plants stem from a report Allison Plants filed Feb. 26 alleging her ex-husband had whipped their 11-year-old son with a belt four days earlier. She filed a domestic violence petition the following day, and a protection order was issued barring her ex-husband from contact with the children.
Allison Plants claims her ex-husband violated that order less than a month later by approaching his children in a parking lot while she was inside a store.
Plants, arrested March 31 on the domestic battery charge, has moved for dismissal, saying he was "acting as a parent to discipline his child" and insisting nothing in West Virginia law precludes reasonable use of corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes.
In Wednesday's decision, the justices pointed out that the disciplinary counsel's job is not to punish but, rather, to protect and reassure the public "as to the reliability and integrity of attorneys."
"We have repeatedly emphasized that this is an extraordinary measure to be utilized only in extreme cases where a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public exists," the court stated. "As a preliminary matter, it is imperative to identify what this case is not. It is not a typical disciplinary matter in which this Court determines the ultimate discipline to be imposed upon an attorney after a complete and thorough hearing and the submission of recommendations by the Lawyer Disciplinary Board. This matter has not yet been developed in that fashion. Instead, it is a very narrow question and a direct assessment of whether the Respondent poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public such that his law license must be subject to interim suspension pending a full hearing and resolution of disciplinary proceedings against him."