Washington (CNN) Georgia's Republican-led state legislature is considering a set of bills that would establish a commission with the power to remove prosecutors and district attorneys from their posts.
Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, say additional oversight is necessary to prevent "soft on crime" prosecutors from endangering Georgians. But Democrats are taking note of the timing -- Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is deciding whether to pursue indictments following her office's investigation into former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia -- as well as the fact that several GOP champions of the effort, including current Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, have been targeted in Willis' investigation.
They have also raised concerns about undermining the will of the voters and removing minority prosecutors.
House Bill 231 would create the "Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, which shall have the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of appointed or elected district attorneys or solicitors-general."
The commission would consist of eight members. Five would be on an investigative panel tasked with investigating "alleged conduct constituting grounds for discipline" and the other three would be a part of a hearing panel that adjudicates charges and issues "disciplinary and incapacity orders."
The standards of conduct that would justify a prosecutor's removal include mental and physical incapacity, being convicted of a crime and "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute."
The House bill passed in a 98-75 vote on Monday and now heads to the state Senate, which passed similar legislation, SB 92, last week.
And House Bill 229, which was introduced early in February, would lower the threshold required to initiate a recall of a prosecutor to just 2% of voters, while other state offices would have to garner 15% or 30%.
In recent years, concerns over rising crime have prompted intense political scrutiny of some progressive-minded prosecutors, such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.
But Willis, the first woman and first Black woman to lead the Fulton County district attorney's office, observed in testimony before the state Senate Judiciary Committee last month that "this bill was never deemed necessary until an historic thing happened in 2020. And let's just talk about it and tell the truth," saying that in 2020, Georgia went from having five minority district attorneys to 14.
She said it was "dangerous" to undo decisions made by voters over policy disagreements and, in a recent interview with The New York Times, flatly characterized the bills as racist.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert, a Republican, angrily rejected Willis' argument during the February hearing.
"For you to come in here and try to make this about racism, that this bill is directed at any district attorney or solicitor because of racism, is absurd, and it's offensive, and it's a racist statement on its own."
CNN has reached out to Willis for comment.
On Truth Social, Trump championed legislators who "want to make it easier to remove and replace local rogue prosecutors who are incompetent, racist, or unable to properly do their job" but did not refer to Willis' investigation into efforts around the 2020 election.
Georgia state Sen. Nabilah Islam, a Democrat, told CNN that the commission created by the legislation would not "reflect the state's diversity and instead will be stacked with Republican loyalists who want to overturn the will of the local voters who elect their district attorney."
"Right now, we have one district attorney who is investigating election interference by Trump and many Republicans, some of whom serve in the legislature," she added. "It's not coincidental SB 92 is introduced at a time when minority district attorneys now represent more than 50% of the Georgia population. Their voters elected them to use their discretion to prioritize violent crime and not prosecute women, doctors and low-level offenses like marijuana possession."
With Trump in legal trouble, Georgia GOP targets prosecutors.
Rachel Maddow looks at a new measure Georgia Republicans are pushing through the legislature that would give them the ability to remove elected prosecutors they don't like, and notes the glaring conflict of potential charges pending against Donald Trump in Fulton County as the bill advances.
Published March 6, 2023
Sat 6 May, 2023 11:14 pm
Georgia’s GOP governor signs bill that could remove local prosecutors
and DAs from their jobs.
Published May 5, 2023
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed legislation Friday that will create an oversight commission with the power to remove local prosecutors and district attorneys from their jobs. The measure has been heavily criticized by Democrats, including an Atlanta-area DA, who is seriously weighing charges in connection with former President Donald Trump’s actions in Georgia during the 2020 election.
Prior to the signing, Kemp’s office said that the measure, known as SB 92, would create “an oversight mechanism for district attorneys and solicitors-general across Georgia to ensure accountability in upholding constitution and statutory duties.”
“As hardworking law enforcement officers routinely put their lives on the line to investigate, confront, and arrest criminal offenders, I won’t stand idly by as they’re met with resistance from rogue or incompetent prosecutors who refuse to uphold the law,” Kemp said in a press release after signing the bill. He added that the creation of the commission “will help hold prosecutors driven by out-of-touch politics than commitment to their responsibilities accountable and make our communities safer.”
The GOP-led state legislature passed the bill earlier this year, mainly along party lines.
Democrats have expressed concerns that commissioners could misuse their authority to punish or remove local prosecutors unnecessarily.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who plans to announce this summer whether she’ll bring charges against Trump or his allies for their attempts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election result, has vocally opposed the the legislation, warning that it would be “dangerous” to undo decisions made by voters.
In testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Georgia Senate earlier this year, she also described the bill as racist and retaliatory.
“This bill was never deemed necessary until a historic thing happened in 2020. And let’s just talk about it and tell the truth,” Willis testified, saying that in 2020, Georgia went from having five minority district attorneys to 14. Willis’ office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Friday.
Republican lawmakers have not specifically targeted Willis in the new legislation.
Under the new law, the commission will consist of eight members. Five will sit on an investigative panel tasked with investigating “alleged conduct constituting grounds for discipline” and the other three would be a part of a hearing panel that adjudicates charges and issues “disciplinary and incapacity orders.”
The new commission will convene by July 1 and put forth rules and regulations no later than October 1. Under the law, the commission will not be able to receive complaints before October 1 and will not be able to receive complaints about misconduct that happened before that date unless it is related to “a continuous pattern of conduct that continues beyond that date.”