Georgia lawmakers are poised to create an oversight body with the power to remove local prosecutors

Momentum continues to build in the Georgia Legislature for a bill that could allow state officials to remove prosecutors from office for misconduct.

The Georgia House this week took a step closer to establishing an oversight commission for prosecutors, the first of its kind in Georgia, when the House Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 92 along a party line poll on Wednesday.

The Republican-backed bill is now scheduled to go to the Gatekeeping House Rules Committee, which will determine which bills will get the floor for a vote. The 2023 legislative period ends on March 29.

Senator Randy Robertson, a Republican from Catuala, said the measure aims to hold local prosecutors accountable in a manner similar to judges who are the subject of investigations by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. Georgia sets a high bar for police officer behavior, resulting in more officers being disbarred than any other state.

“The criminal justice system is under supervision, whether you’re a deputy sheriff working in a rural county or a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department,” Robertson said. “There are multiple levels of opportunity to have your actions reviewed, studied, and corrected.”

“I’ve watched judges who choose to do things their way as opposed to the way things should be done, who retire and leave the job because they have that high standard haven’t met,” Robertson said.

In 2020, Democrats proposed creating a similar committee after allegations of mishandling and possible allegations criminal charge of the local prosecutor originally assigned to investigate the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 23-year-old black man who was killed by three white men while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick.

At the time, Republicans rejected Democrats’ proposals to create a new commission that would single out problem prosecutors, or at least punish prosecutors who failed to meet proposed standards in some way.

In recent months, some Democratic lawmakers and prosecutors have questioned whether Republican lawmakers’ support for increased prosecutorial oversight is related to political reasons rather than serious concerns that prosecutors are abusing their powers.

They point out that a record number of non-white women were elected district attorneys in Georgia in the 2020 election.

About two dozen prosecutors and attorneys of the Georgian district signed a letter supporting the supervisory commission. But the proposal is opposed by prosecutors and district attorney associations, who complain that a state oversight body could unfairly target local prosecutors for making independent judgments about what types of cases should be prosecuted.

Opponents also argue that the law is unnecessary since voters can already decide whether prosecutors are re-elected and prosecutors who break the law will be prosecuted.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is prosecuting an investigation into former President Donald Trump, has complained that the legislation was an overreaction.

Similar, House bill 231 sets up a new body to decide on the consequences of the prosecution Refrain from prosecuting low-level crimes.

A district attorney or attorney general could be removed from office under the proposed law for willful and prejudicial misconduct, as well as physical or mental disabilities that impair his ability to prosecute cases.

Under HB 231, the Georgia Supreme Court would appoint a five-member investigative panel and a three-member hearing panel. Robertson’s plan is for Georgia’s legislative leadership to choose the members.