Georgia bill is latest GOP effort targeting prosecutors

ATLANTA (AP) — A new Georgia commission to discipline and remove wayward prosecutors would be the latest statewide move to improve oversight of what Republicans see as “woke prosecutors” who are not doing enough to fight crime .

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

Georgia’s bill responds to efforts to oust prosecutors in Florida, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as statewide disputes over how certain crimes should be charged. All are continuing crime-fighting campaigns that Republicans have been running nationwide for the past year, who accuse 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 — a prosecutor’s decision as to which cases to review or deny and what 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 fundamental change in law enforcement. Hessick, who heads the Prosecutors and Politics Project, said voters were being presented with meaningful debate for the first time about the policy of the public prosecutor’s office.

“I think it happened because a few years ago there was an attempt 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 condemned the measure, which claims it was a racist attack after Georgia voters elected 14 non-white prosecutors in 2020. Willis pushed herself into the center of the controversy as she ponders charges against former President Donald Trump for meddling in Georgia’s 2020 election. Some have viewed it as Republican retaliation against the Atlanta Attorney.

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But the energy behind the bill was not directed against Willis, who is not only targeting Trump but also pursuing a harsh 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 her refusal to prosecute marijuana crimes, the prosecutors who work under her are wandering, and for failing to meet court deadlines.

“That’s the whole point of this bill, which is restoring public safety in places where there are ruthless prosecutors who are just not doing their job,” said Georgia Republican Assemblyman Houston Gaines of Athens.

The effort was born out of frustrations involving a white Republican prosecutor in suburban Atlanta who was charged with bribery related to sexual harassment allegations. He dwelt until he pleaded guilty to unprofessional conduct and resigned 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 killing of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020.

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, described the bill Monday as “a majority party seizure of power to usurp the will of the electorate by giving this body the task of appointing duly elected prosecutors in this state.” oversee. ”

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 law pending in Indiana would allow an oversight panel to appoint a special prosecutor to handle cases where a “noncompliant” prosecutor refuses to charge specific crimes.

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Hessick said considering each case individually is an unrealistic standard because prosecutors dismiss many more cases than they accept. She said Georgia law is less likely to change prosecutors’ decisions about which cases to prosecute than to muzzle their ability to talk about their decisions.

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

The rules could also target prosecutors who, prior to the Roe v. Wade had stated in 2022 that they would not prosecute abortion-related 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 struck down a commission investigating prosecutors’ behavior in 2018 after prosecutors complained that they had given state legislatures too much control over independent bureaus.

Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed another version of the law into law in 2021. The commission is not yet operational 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. But they say impeachment would take up too much of lawmakers’ time. Instead, the new commission would investigate and make decisions. A prosecutor could appeal a decision to a state court and ultimately to the state Supreme Court.

The impeachment trial is ongoing in Pennsylvania, where House Republicans voted in November to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner for reasons such as his failure to prosecute some petty crimes, bail policy, and management.

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

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Plans for a Republican-majority impeachment trial in the Pennsylvania Senate have been suspended pending an appeal of that decision. Meanwhile, the Republican majority that voted to impeach in the House of Representatives is now a Democratic majority. What that means for a process is unclear.

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

Meanwhile, the district attorney whom DeSantis appointed as Warren’s replacement has resumed prosecuting some of the misdemeanors — including suspended licenses, disorderly conduct and begging — that Warren failed to bring to justice.

The GOP-led Missouri Legislature is also maneuvering to override a Democratic prosecutor — St. Louis Circuit Attorney 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 homicides per 100,000 people. 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 alleges negligence in her job. If a judge agrees, Parson would appoint 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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