Complaint filed against magistrate in Plants investigation – Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Supreme Court’s administrator filed an ethics complaint against Kanawha County Magistrate Ward Harshbarger on Thursday in connection with an investigation into the county’s prosecuting attorney.

The administrator, Steve Canterbury, said he filed the complaint with the state Judicial Investigation Commission in connection to a West Virginia State Police investigation into Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants over child-abuse allegations made by Plants’ ex-wife, Allison Plants.

Canterbury wouldn’t say what the complaint against Harshbarger is about. An attorney for Allison Plants said Harshbarger’s only involvement in their case was when the magistrate refused to grant his client a domestic-violence protective order against Mark Plants.

The judicial commission has 10 days to provide the Supreme Court with the findings of its investigation, Canterbury said.

Police announced last month that they were investigating after Allison Plants said her ex-husband had disciplined their son “in an excessive manner.”

Kanawha Family Court Judge Mike Kelly issued an emergency domestic-violence protective order on Feb. 27, ordering Plants to stay away from his ex-wife and their two sons.

Harshbarger couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. Mark Plants said Thursday he didn’t know what the complaint is over.

On Feb. 26, Allison Plants went to Kanawha County Magistrate Court to get a protective order against her ex-husband, according to her attorney, Mike Clifford.

Harshbarger “told us to take it to Judge Kelly,” Clifford said Thursday. Clifford said that was Harshbarger’s only involvement in the case and that he didn’t know why the ethics complaint was filed against the magistrate.

An assistant for Magistrate Joe Shelton, who was on duty Thursday, said of domestic-violence protection orders, “We grant them all the time.”

All of Kanawha County’s circuit judges have recused themselves from the Plants case. All of the county’s family court judges did likewise, after Kelly issued his order. Mercer Circuit Judge Derek Swope and Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia Keller have been assigned to the case by the Supreme Court.

Keller has scheduled a final hearing on the protective order at 9:30 a.m. March 21 at the Cabell County Courthouse. State law dictates that the hearing is closed to the public.

Swope has asked the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. In his request, the judge said State Police troopers “have completed their investigation.”

State Police Sgt. M.S. Adams, of the Crimes Against Children Unit in Wheeling, conducted the investigation into Plants.

Allison Plants filed for divorce from the prosecutor in June 2012. Mark Plants has since married Sarah Foster, his former secretary. He has been criticized for the $15,000 in pay raises she received during the four years she worked for him. Foster also had multiple motor-vehicle violations dismissed in magistrate court without proof that the violations were corrected.

The state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel has an open investigation into Mark Plants, and the prosecutor has said it’s regarding the alleged favoritism.

Mark Plants has said Foster’s salary was not out of line with what he paid his other secretaries and assistants. Additionally, he denies having any involvement in his wife’s tickets being dismissed.

Plants, 37, was first elected Kanawha prosecutor in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.

At a news conference after the allegations were first made public, Plants said he and his ex-wife “agreed that spanking on occasion is an appropriate form of discipline” and blamed the abuse allegations on his ex-wife’s attorney “mudslinging.”

Reach Kate White at kate.wh…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

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