The Georgia bill is the latest GOP effort to target prosecutors – KGET 17

ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia’s new commission to discipline and remove wayward prosecutors would be the latest nationwide move to step up scrutiny of what Republicans see as “woke prosecutors” who aren’t doing enough to fight crime.

The Georgia House voted 97-77 on Monday in favor of Senate Bill 92 to create the commission. The Senate later sent the measure to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto. Kemp has previously expressed support for the concept.

The Georgia law parallels efforts to remove prosecutors in Florida, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as broader disputes across the country over how certain crimes should be charged. All continue the anti-crime campaigns that Republicans ran across the country last year, accusing Democrats of coddling criminals and acting improperly by refusing to prosecute entire categories of crimes, including marijuana possession. All efforts raise the issue of prosecutorial discretion — prosecutorial decisions about which cases to try or dismiss and which charges to file.

Carissa Hessick, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Republican push is trying to reverse a sea change in criminal prosecutions. Hessick, who directs the Prosecutors and Politics project, said that for the first time, voters are facing a meaningful debate about prosecutorial politics.

“I think it happened because a few years ago there was an attempt to try to use the DA’s office to address mass incarceration and injustice within the criminal justice system,” she said. “That movement was successful in many places.”

Georgia Democrats strongly oppose the measure, saying most Republicans are looking for another way to impose their will on local Democratic voters.

Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis rejected the measure, claiming it was a racist attack after voters elected 14 non-white district attorneys in Georgia in 2020. Willis thrust herself into the center of controversy even as she contemplates allegations of meddling against former President Donald Trump in Georgia’s 2020 election. Some see it as Republican revenge against the Atlanta prosecutor.

But the energy behind the bill has not been against Willis, who in addition to targeting Trump has been waging a heavy-handed offensive against alleged gang members. Instead, many Georgia Republicans are most angered by Deborah Gonzalez, the district attorney who covers two counties, including Athens, Kemp’s hometown. She has come under fire for her refusal to prosecute marijuana crimes, the drain on prosecutors who work under her control, and her failure to meet court deadlines.

“That’s the whole point of this bill, to restore public safety in places where you have rogue district attorneys who are just not doing their jobs,” said Georgia Republican Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens.

The effort grew out of frustrations involving a white Republican prosecutor in suburban Atlanta who was charged with bribery in connection with sexual harassment claims. He held on until he pleaded guilty to unprofessional conduct and resigned in 2022.

Some Democrats have for some time been interested in similar measures because of Jackie Johnson, the coastal Georgia district attorney later charged with obstructing the police investigation into the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Democratic interest cooled after voters ousted Johnson. Now they say Republicans should respect the will of local voters.

Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat and former prosecutor, on Monday described the bill as “a power grab by the majority party to usurp the will of the voters by putting this body in the job of overseeing duly elected prosecutors across the state. ”

Most importantly, Georgia law mandates that a prosecutor must consider every case for which there is probable cause and cannot exclude categories of cases from prosecution. A similar bill pending in Indiana would allow the oversight board to appoint a special prosecutor to handle cases when a “noncompliant” prosecutor refuses to charge certain crimes.

Hessick said looking at each individual case is an unrealistic standard because prosecutors turn away far more cases than they accept. She said the Georgia law is less likely to change prosecutors’ decisions about which cases to pursue than to bar them from speaking about their decisions.

“It’s designed to prevent them from running on these reform platforms,” ​​Hessick said.

The rules could also target prosecutors who said before Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022 that they would not prosecute abortion-related offenses. Seven current Georgia district attorneys have made such pledges, among dozens across the country.

In some states, such laws could face obstacles. In 2018, a New York court pulled the commission investigating prosecutorial conduct after district attorneys sued, saying it gave state lawmakers too much oversight of independent offices.

Then-Gov. In 2021, Andrew Cuomo signed another version into law. The commission is not working yet because some members have not been appointed, said the court’s spokesperson.

Georgia lawmakers can already impeach district attorneys and attorneys general — elected prosecutors in some Georgia counties who handle lower-level cases. But they say a recall would take up too much of lawmakers’ time. Instead, the new commission would investigate and make decisions. The prosecutor can appeal the decision to the court at the state level, and finally to the Supreme Court of the state.

Impeachment continues in Pennsylvania, where House Republicans voted in November to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner for reasons including his failure to prosecute minor crimes, his bail policy and management.

Krasner sued to challenge the legality of the impeachment, and a divided state court ruled for him, finding that the articles of impeachment did not meet the required legal threshold.

Plans for an impeachment trial in Pennsylvania’s Republican-majority Senate have been delayed while the decision can be appealed. Meanwhile, the Republican majority that voted for impeachment in the House of Representatives is now the Democratic majority. It’s unclear what that will mean for any trial.

Other governors and legislatures have moved more directly to remove prosecutors. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County Attorney General Andrew Warren in Tampa in August. A federal judge found that DeSantis illegally targeted Warren because she is a Democrat who has publicly supported abortion and transgender rights and because doing so would benefit DeSantis politically. But the judge wrote that he had no authority to reinstate Warren, prompting the Democrat to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor hired by DeSantis to replace Warren continued to prosecute some of the offenses — including suspended licenses, disorderly conduct and loitering — that Warren had stopped bringing to trial.

The GOP-led Missouri Legislature is also maneuvering to override a Democratic prosecutor — St. Louisa Kim Gardner. It would allow Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint an additional special prosecutor for five years in any jurisdiction where the homicide rate exceeds 35 murders per 100,000 residents. The draft law was drawn up with St. Louis.

Also, Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is seeking to remove Gardner from office, alleging negligence in her work. If the judge agrees, Parson would name her replacement. A hearing date has not been set.


Associated Press writers Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, Alana Durkin Richer in Boston and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contributed to this report.

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