Georgia Bill is the latest GOP effort targeting prosecutors

ATLANTA (AP) — A new Georgia commission to discipline and remove misguided prosecutors would be the latest nationwide move to bolster oversight of what Republicans see as “woke prosecutors” who aren’t doing enough to fight the crime.

The Georgia House on Monday voted 97 to 77 for Senate Bill 92 to create the commission. The Senate then sent the measure to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto. Kemp has already expressed support for the concept.

The Georgia bill parallels efforts to remove prosecutors in Florida, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as broader nationwide disputes over how certain criminal offenses should be charged. All are continuing the anti-crime campaigns Republicans waged nationwide last year, accusing Democrats of coddling criminals and acting inappropriately by refusing to prosecute entire categories of crimes, including possession. of marijuana. All of these efforts raise the issue of prosecutorial discretion — a prosecutor’s decision about which cases to try or dismiss and which charges to bring.

Carissa Hessick, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Republican push was trying to reverse a sweeping shift in prosecutions. Hessick, who leads the Prosecutors and Politics Project, said for the first time voters are facing a meaningful debate about prosecutorial policies.

“I think it happened because several years ago there was a push to try to use the prosecutor’s office to address mass incarceration and injustices within the criminal justice system. “, she said. “This movement has succeeded in many places.”

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

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis denounced the measure, saying it was a racist attack after voters elected 14 nonwhite district attorneys in Georgia in 2020. Willis stood pushed to the center of controversy even as she pondered charges against former President Donald Trump for interference in Georgia’s 2020 election. Some saw it as Republican retribution against the Atlanta prosecutor.

But the energy behind the bill has not been against Willis, who, in addition to targeting Trump, is pursuing a crackdown on suspected gang members. Instead, many Republicans in Georgia are very irritated by Deborah Gonzalez, a district attorney who covers two counties, including Kemp’s hometown of Athens. She is under fire for refusing to prosecute marijuana-related crimes, a departure from prosecutors working under her, and failure to meet court deadlines.

“That’s the whole point of this bill, is to restore public safety to places where you have rogue district attorneys who just aren’t doing their job,” said Republican Representative from Georgia. Houston Gaines of Athens.

The effort grew out of frustrations involving a white Republican prosecutor from suburban Atlanta who was charged with bribery related to allegations of sexual harassment. He lingered until he pleaded guilty to unprofessional conduct and resigned in 2022.

Democratic interest cooled after voters ousted Johnson. Now they say Republicans must respect the will of local voters.

Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat and former prosecutor, on Monday described the bill as “a power grab by the majority party to usurp the will of voters by tasking that body with overseeing duly elected prosecutors across this state.” . ”

Basically, the Georgian bill states that a prosecutor must review each case for which probable cause exists and cannot exclude categories of cases from prosecution. A similar bill pending in Indiana would allow a supervisory board to appoint a special prosecutor to handle cases where a “non-compliant” prosecutor refuses to charge certain crimes.

Hessick said looking at each case individually is an unrealistic standard because prosecutors reject far more cases than they accept. She said Georgia law is less likely to change prosecutors’ decisions about the cases they pursue than to muzzle their ability to speak out about their decisions.

“It’s designed to keep them from running on these reform rigs,” Hessick said.

The rules could also target prosecutors who said before the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 that they would not prosecute abortion-related offenses. Seven current Georgia district attorneys have made such pledges, among dozens nationwide.

In some states, such laws could run into obstacles. A New York court struck down a commission in 2018 to investigate the conduct of prosecutions after district attorneys sued, saying it gave state lawmakers too much control over independent offices.

Then-Governor. Andrew Cuomo in 2021 signed another version into law. The commission is not yet operational because some members have not been appointed, a court spokesperson said.

Georgia lawmakers can already remove district attorneys and solicitors general — elected prosecutors in some Georgia counties who handle lower-level cases. But they say impeachment would take lawmakers too long. Instead, the new commission would investigate and make decisions. A prosecutor could appeal a decision to a state court, and possibly to the state Supreme Court.

Plans for an impeachment trial in the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate have been put on hold while that ruling is appealed. In the meantime, the Republican majority that voted for impeachment in the House is now a Democratic majority. It’s unclear what this will mean for any trial.

In the meantime, the prosecutor DeSantis brought in to replace Warren took over the prosecution of certain offenses — including suspended licenses, disorderly conduct and begging — that Warren had stopped prosecuting.

The GOP-led Missouri Legislature is also maneuvering to overrule 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 murders per 100,000 population. The bill was drafted with St. Louis in mind.

Additionally, Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is seeking to remove Gardner from office, alleging negligence in his job. If a judge agrees, Parson would name his 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.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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