The Georgia bill is the GOP’s latest initiative targeting prosecutors

ATLANTA (AP) — A new Georgia commission tasked with disciplining and removing wayward prosecutors would be the latest step nationwide to tighten scrutiny over what Republicans see as “woke prosecutors” who aren’t doing enough to stop the to fight crime.

The Georgia House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 92 establishing the commission by a vote of 97 to 77 on Monday. The Senate later sent the measure to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for signature or veto. Kemp has previously expressed support for the concept.

Georgia’s bill comes in response to efforts to fire prosecutors in Florida, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as larger statewide disputes over how certain crimes should be charged. They all continue the anti-crime campaigns that Republicans conducted nationwide last year and accuse Democrats of coddling criminals and misbehaving by refusing to prosecute entire categories of crimes, including marijuana possession. All efforts raise the question of prosecutorial discretion — a prosecutor’s decision about which cases to hear or deny and which charges to bring.

Carissa Hessick, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Republican push seeks to reverse a sea change in law enforcement. Hessick, who directs the Prosecutors and Politics Project, said voters were faced with a meaningful debate about prosecutors’ policies for the first time.

“I think that happened because a few years ago there were moves to use the prosecutor’s office to address mass incarceration and injustices within the criminal justice system,” she said. “This movement was successful in many places.”

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

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has condemned the measure, alleging it was a racist attack, after voters elected 14 non-white Georgia district attorneys in 2020. Willis pushed herself into the center of the controversy, even as she mulls charges against former President Donald Trump for meddling in Georgia’s 2020 election. Some saw it as Republican retaliation against the Atlanta prosecutor.

But the energy behind the bill isn’t directed against Willis, who is not only targeting Trump, but also launching a tougher offensive against suspected gang members. Instead, many Georgia Republicans are most upset with Deborah Gonzalez, a district attorney who serves two counties, including Athens, Kemp’s hometown. She has come under fire for refusing to prosecute marijuana crimes, because prosecutors under her are migrating and for failing to meet court deadlines.

“The whole point of this bill is restoring public safety in places where there are fraudulent prosecutors who are simply not doing their jobs,” said Georgia Republican Assemblyman Houston Gaines of Athens.

The initiative arose out of frustrations over a white Republican prosecutor in suburban Atlanta who was charged with bribery related to sexual harassment allegations. He remained in place until pleading guilty to unprofessional conduct and resigning in 2022.

Some Democrats were interested in similar action for a time because Jackie Johnson, the Georgia Coast District Attorney, was later accused of obstructing the police investigation into the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Democrat interest waned after voters unseated Johnson. Now they say Republicans should respect the will of local voters.

Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat and former prosecutor, described the bill Monday as “a majority-party power grab to usurp the will of the electorate by giving this body the task of duly elected prosecutors across the state.” to monitor.” ”

Crucially, the Georgia bill requires a prosecutor to review each case for which there is a probable cause and cannot disqualify any category of case from prosecution. A similar bill pending in Indiana would allow an oversight panel to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with cases where a “noncompliant” prosecutor refuses to charge specific crimes.

Hessick said considering each case individually is an unrealistic standard because prosecutors dismiss many more cases than they accept. She said Georgian law will not change prosecutors’ decisions about which cases to pursue, but will affect their ability to speak out about their decisions.

“It’s meant to discourage them from participating in these reform platforms,” ​​Hessick said.

The rules could also target prosecutors who, prior to the 2022 Roe v. Wade annulment, said they would not prosecute abortion offenses. Seven current Georgia district attorneys have made such commitments, including dozens across the country.

In some states, such laws may face obstacles. A New York court has dismissed a 2018 commission investigating prosecutors’ conduct after district attorneys complained it gave state legislatures too much control over independent offices.

The then governor. Andrew Cuomo signed another bill into law in 2021. The commission is not yet active because some members have not yet been appointed, a court spokesman said.

Georgia lawmakers can already indict district attorneys and attorneys general — elected prosecutors in some Georgia counties who handle lower-level cases. However, they say impeachment would take up too much of the legislature’s time. Instead, the new commission would conduct investigations and make decisions. A prosecutor could appeal a decision to a state court and ultimately to the state Supreme Court.

Impeachment is ongoing in Pennsylvania, where House Republicans voted in November to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Reasons for this included his failure to prosecute some minor crimes, his bail policy and management.

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

Plans for an impeachment trial in the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania Senate are on hold pending an appeal of the decision. Meanwhile, the Republican majority that voted in favor of impeachment in the House of Representatives is now a Democratic majority. It’s unclear what that will mean for a trial.

Other governors and parliaments have campaigned more directly for the removal of prosecutors. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended District Attorney Andrew Warren in Tampa’s Hillsborough County in August. A federal judge found that DeSantis had illegally targeted Warren because he is a Democrat who has publicly advocated for 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 whom DeSantis appointed to replace Warren has resumed prosecution for a number of crimes Warren failed to bring to justice, including license suspension, disorderly conduct and begging.

The GOP-led Missouri Legislature is also seeking to override a Democratic prosecutor — St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner. That would allow Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint an additional special prosecutor in each jurisdiction where the homicide rate exceeds 35 per 100,000 people for a five-year term. The bill was drafted with St. Louis in mind.

The Republican Attorney General of Missouri, Andrew Bailey, is also trying to remove Gardner from office because he accuses her of negligent work. If a judge agrees, Parson would appoint her successor. 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.