Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) will sign a bill on Friday creating a state commission that will have the authority to investigate, sanction or remove local prosecutors – all part of a broader Republican-led push to punish district attorneys who don’t do their bidding.
Senate Bill 92 will create the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, which would grant the task force oversight over local prosecutors.
Reasons listed for why the commission would be able to remove a prosecuting attorney include “willful or persistent failure” to carry out their duties, “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute,” or enacting a “stated policy, written or otherwise, which demonstrates that the district attorney or solicitor-general categorically refuses to prosecute any offense or offenses of which he or she is required by law to prosecute.”
If the last offense seemed targeted, that’s because it could be: Republican governors across the country have sought to retaliate against prosecutors who’ve stated that they wouldn’t pursue certain low-level offenses or enforce new laws passed by far-right state legislatures. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) fired a prosecutor in part for stating that he wouldn’t prosecute people seeking abortions.
Georgia Democrats have argued that the bill aims to endanger Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s job as she conducts a probe into whether former president Donald Trump attempted to overturn his 2020 defeat in the state. Her grand jury’s investigation reached completion back in January, and Willis said last week that she will announce charges in the case this summer.
“Whether intended or not, the majority of the world” will see the bill as a reaction to her investigation, Rep. Tanya Miller (D-Atlanta) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in March.
State Republicans have largely avoided bringing up Willis, and focused their attention on other liberal district attorneys, like Athens DA Deborah Gonzalez, whom they claim aren’t adequately doing their jobs.
“The whole point of the bill is to restore public safety in places where you have rogue district attorneys who aren’t doing their job,” Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) said of Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was sued in March for allegedly being “unable and unwilling to perform her statutory duties”; the complaint includes a letter signed by four local judges who accuse her of, among other things, not coordinating with law enforcement.
But the Athens district attorney argues that Republicans are just trying to retaliate for her progressive approach.
On March 13, she responded to the lawsuit on Facebook: “This attack on my office is part of a broader, politically-motivated campaign to undermine prosecutors who have been elected by their communities to pursue smart justice that moves away from the failed ‘tough on crime’ strategies of the past.”