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Decision to fire prosecutor was not made hastily, Plants says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said Wednesday that his decision to sack veteran assistant and one-time chief of staff Maryclaire Akers was the result of a long discussion with his top deputies.

Plants, however, remained mum on the exact circumstances that led him to fire Akers, who handled criminal cases at the office for 13 years under five different administrations and was widely considered one of the county's top assistant prosecutors.

"It was a difficult, drawn-out decision. It was made by my chief of staff, co-chief of staff and myself." Plants said. "It was made in the best interest of the office."

Plants confirmed that Akers' firing was not linked to an individual case or her personal quality as a prosecutor. He declined to answer inquiries about whether Akers engaged in any long-term insubordination.

"I can't discuss any details," he said.

Akers was hired as an assistant prosecutor in 2000 under former prosecuting attorney Bill Forbes. She handled dozens of high-profile murder cases in her tenure, including the prosecutions of Thomas Mallo, who as a 14-year-old stabbed his elderly neighbor to death in 2009, and Shawn Thomas Lester, who admitted to shooting and killing one of three people with a scoped rifle in 2003.

The Lester case in particular involved thousands of pages of documents and thousands more hours of intense investigation, the parties in the case have said.

"She's an active, aggressive person -- sort of a pit-bull-type prosecutor," Forbes, now a criminal defense lawyer, said of Akers. "On behalf of defendants everywhere, they won't be unhappy to see Maryclaire leave."

Mike Clifford, who also served as prosecuting attorney from 2001 to 2005, said he counted Akers among his best.

"She's an excellent, excellent trial lawyer," he said. "The county is going to be worse off for her not being an assistant prosecutor."

Last year, Akers accepted a temporary post at the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, where she acted as a sort of liaison to the federal and county agencies and cross-prosecuted cases in the two jurisdictions.

Akers was Plants' chief of staff at the time she took on the federal time-share. She said she had to drop the post to handle the increased workload.

"I've enjoyed my time as a prosecutor," she said Wednesday. "It's been 13 years and it's been wonderful and I wish Plants' office the best."

Akers said she has not decided where she will practice law, although she has been considering a few options. She could not say whether she will seek to re-enter the public sector.

"My passion is serving the public, and being a public servant is what I always felt I was called to do," she said. "If that's where I'm led, that's where I'll go."

Plants reiterated that the decision to let Akers go was not made lightly and said that his former assistant was a "great prosecutor."

"I wish her the best," he said.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.

 


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