The Washington Post

Georgia GOP pushes to make ousting local prosecutor­s easier


Georgia’s Republican legislator­s are pushing bills that would make it easier to remove local prosecutor­s from office, an effort that prominent Democratic prosecutor­s have decried as “dangerous” overreach. The move comes as Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Willis considers bringing charges against former president Donald Trump and his allies over 2020 election interferen­ce.

A bill passed by the Georgia House on Monday night would create a state oversight panel that could recall any of the state’s elected districts attorney or solicitors general for several reasons, including “willful misconduct” or “persistent failure to perform his or her duties.” The Georgia Senate passed a similar version of the legislatio­n last week. Another proposed measure would dramatical­ly shrink the number of signatures needed to seek the recall of a district attorney.

Republican lawmakers have said the measures are needed to rein in reform-minded prosecutor­s and crack down on crime.

The bills come as Willis, who represents metropolit­an Atlanta, weighs indictment­s in a criminal investigat­ion of interferen­ce in the 2020 election. A special grand jury investigat­ing efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia concluded that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony and recommende­d that charges be filed, according to a five-page excerpt of the grand jury report. In interviews last month, the grand jury forewoman told reporters that the panel had recommende­d multiple indictment­s on a range of charges.

Willis, who is Black, has called the legislatio­n “dangerous” and said it will limit prosecutor­s’ ability to carry out their work. She also has said that she considers the bills to be “racist” because they subvert the power of the state’s record number of district attorneys of color. Over half of the state’s population now lives in jurisdicti­ons overseen by its 14 nonWhite district attorneys.

“In 2020, we went from having five district attorneys that were minorities to 14 that were minorities,” Willis told state lawmakers last month. “Those district attorneys now represent the majority of the constituen­ts in the state of Georgia.”

If the legislatio­n is signed into law, the oversight board would be put in place at the start of next year. Any indictment­s brought against Trump or his allies would probably be ongoing.

Deborah Gonzalez, a district attorney who represents Athens, Ga., called the bill an “overstep” in the democratic process because it could allow state authoritie­s to recall reform-minded district attorneys “over the will of the people who elected said prosecutor.”

Republican­s, however, argue that the legislatio­n would provide necessary oversight of local law enforcemen­t as crime ticks up in major cities such as Atlanta. And Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones have called for greater “accountabi­lity” of local prosecutor­s who have said they would decline to prosecute certain cases involving issues such as abortion or drug possession.

The number of homicides in America’s largest cities declined 4 percent between 2021 and 2022, according to the nonpartisa­n Council on Criminal Justice, but it remains 34 percent above 2019 levels, according to a January review.

The conflict points to a broader national tension between conservati­ve state government­s and reform-minded local prosecutor­s. In Florida, Gov. Ron Desantis ousted a Tampa-area state attorney last year after the prosecutor said he wouldn’t press prosecute people who had abortions or sought gender-affirming care in conflict with state law.

“Far-left local prosecutor­s are failing their constituen­ts and making our communitie­s less safe,” Kemp wrote on Twitter. “I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly and [Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr] to address it this session.”

While many major American cities are experienci­ng historical­ly low crime rates, incidences of some violent crimes have ticked up across the country in the years since the coronaviru­s pandemic.

“I want the individual­s in the criminal justice system to be held to the same standard that I was when I was there. I want the standards to be increased,” state Sen. Randy Robertson (R) said in a February speech supporting the bill. “We see riots and we see people running all over the place saying the justice system isn’t fair and that people are able to do whatever they want.”

The measure also has the support of some of the state’s district attorneys. In February, 21 of the state’s 50 district attorneys published a letter in support of the bills. “We believe prosecutor­s that decline to enforce a provision of law or an entire body of law go too far,” the mostly Republican group of prosecutor­s wrote.

A bill passed by the Georgia House on Monday night would create a state oversight panel that could recall any of the state’s elected districts attorney or solicitors general for several reasons.

“Elected prosecutor­s have always had discretion and have always exercised it extensivel­y, to keep cases out of the system,” said Kay Levine, a professor of law at Emory University who studies state courts and local prosecutio­n. “What’s different now with the reform-oriented prosecutor­s who are articulati­ng up front the policies that are going to guide their nonenforce­ment choices is that they’re being transparen­t and public about those things.”

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