Georgia House GOP advances prosecutor oversight bill as Dems complain of political score-settling

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

March 5, 2024

A new disciplinary board could soon  begin investigating complaints against the state’s district attorneys and solicitors general under legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly.

The House passed Senate Bill 332 by 97-73 on Tuesday, sending legislation to the governor’s desk that would allow the Professional Attorneys Qualifications Commission to begin reviewing complaints of misconduct filed against district attorneys and solicitors general throughout the state. Republicans rejected claims from Democrats that the oversight commission could be weaponized to unfairly target district attorneys in a partisan manner during an hour long of debate on Tuesday.

Near the top of the list of suspicions is that Fulton County DA Fani Willis will be targeted for prosecuting former President Donald Trump and his GOP allies in the 2020 election interference case.

Rep. Joseph Gullett, a Dallas Republican, said that SB 332 creates a new rulemaking process after the Supreme Court last year expressed “grave doubts” about its ability to give final approval of the new commission’s rules and guidelines, as lawmakers intended to authorize in 2023 legislation.

“Once this bill passes, this commission will be able to begin the real work that is bringing accountability to those rogue prosecuting attorneys who abuse their office, who sexually harass their employees and do not show up for work,” Gullett said. “This commission will give you the confidence that each criminal case will be reviewed on its own merits rather than dismissed by a written memo that informs the public of specific laws that will not be enforced in areas of the state.”

Supporters of the oversight commission say the process allows residents to lodge complaints that trigger investigations into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and provides victims with the ability to challenge plea deals they deem to be too lenient.

The oversight investigative and hearing panels members are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and other majority party leaders.

Lawrenceville Democratic Rep. Sam Park said that legislators voting in favor of SB 332 are allowing partisan appointed panel members  to obstruct district attorneys from using their judicial discretion to enforce the laws.

Park said that a Republican senator filed the first complaint with the commission last year targeting Willis for prosecuting a felony racketeering case against Trump and 18 co-defendants.

“This is a partisan attempt to control and discipline prosecutors who hand down decisions that Republican politicians do not like,” Park said. “Members of this body regardless of your political affiliation should continue to do everything in our power to improve the lives of Georgians, not finding new and creative ways to protect twice impeached former President Donald Trump from criminal investigation.”

Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Dacula Republican, said Tuesday he was shocked that Democrats are trying to obscure what ultimately led to the prosecutor oversight bill coming before the Legislature.

Efstration said that the outrage caused in 2020 with the release of cell phone video showing the shooting death of the 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery led to legislators passing a historic hate crimes law and repealing the citizens arrest law that prosecutors initially used to justify killing Arbery.

Efstration said lawmakers passed a historic hate crime law and repealed the citizens arrest law used initially by prosecutors to justify the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery after the 25-year old Black man was chased down a suburban Brunswick street by three white men. It was also recommended at that time by a prominent civil rights organization that Georgia lawmakers pass a prosecutors oversight measure, he said.

Former House Democratic Whip William Boddie filed prosecutors oversight legislation in 2021, but it was never heard by a House committee. According to Efstration, Boddie’s bill did not include the oversight of solicitors general, which was addressed in the latest version.

“It shocks me that there has been such a distortion of this issue by Democrats that have obscured the truth here, which is that this was a bipartisan legislative agenda to ensure that all Georgians felt that they could rely on the justice system,” Efstration said.

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