Georgia governor signs bill that allows removal of district attorneys | Georgia

Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill on Friday that makes it possible to oust elected district attorneys from office if they are believed to not be adequately enforcing the law. It’s a move that is seen a thinly veiled power grab to push out Democratic prosecutors, include some who said they would not prosecute abortion-related crimes.

The new law sets up a statewide Prosecuting Attorneys Statewide Qualifications Commission with the power to investigate complaints against district attorneys and remove them if they have sufficient cause. The law outlines a series of offenses for which a prosecutor can be removed, including “willful and persistent failure” to carry out their duties and categorically refusing to prosecute crimes they are required by law to pursue.

“I am not gonna stand idly by as rogue or incompetent prosecutors refuse to uphold the law,” Kemp said at an event before he signed the bill on Friday in Savannah. “Today we are sending a message that we will not forfeit public safety for prosecutors who let criminals off the hook.”

The measure comes as Fani Willis, a Democrat serving as the Fulton county district attorney, investigates Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A special purpose grand jury has already recommended indictments in the matter and Willis has said if there are charges, they would be announced this summer.

Willis has criticized the measure as “racist”, noting earlier this year that Republicans were pushing the measure after the number of minority district attorneys increased from five to 14 in 2020. ““I’m tired and I’m just going to call it how I see it,” she said. “I, quite frankly, think the legislation is racist. I don’t know what other thing to call it,” she told a senate panel earlier this year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The eight-person commission will consist of a five-member committee that can investigate district attorneys and a three-member hearing panel. The commissioners’ terms will formally begin in July 2024, the same month complaints can start to be filed. The commission’s members would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature in Georgia, which are all Republican-led.

The new law is widely believed to target Deborah Gonzalez, a Democrat who was elected the prosecutor in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties in 2020. Gonzalez has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms, including not charging for simple possession of marijuana. She was also one of several district attorneys in Georgia who announced last year that she would not prosecute abortion-related crimes.

“This is not an oversight bill. It’s an overstep on the part of the legislature to undermine the voice and vote of the people who elected us as DAs based on our approach and what they felt they wanted, in terms of the way that justice should be done in their community. This just takes all of that away,” Gonzalez told Bolts, an online newsmagazine.

Houston Gaines, a state lawmaker from Athens who supports the bill, said the point of it “is to restore public safety in places where you have rogue district attorneys who simply are not doing their job”, according to the Associated Press.

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The bill comes as Republicans elsewhere have moved to remove elected progressive prosecutors from office. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Andrew Warren, a Democrat, after Warren said he would not enforce crimes around abortion and gender therapy. In St. Louis, Republicans were moving to oust Kim Gardner, the circuit attorney for St Louis county, before she announced she was resigning on Thursday.

Georgia lawmakers also previously passed a measure that allowed for a takeover of local election boards for poor performance. A panel reviewing the elections operations in Fulton county, the most populous in the state, recommended not taking over the board earlier this year.

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