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Georgia GOP Bill Would Create Panels to Remove Elected County DAs

Prosecutorial discretion given to district attorneys is “threatened under this bill,” one Democratic critic said.

Fani Willis, the District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, is pictured inside her office chambers in the Fulton County Justice Center Tower in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 20, 2022.

The Georgia state House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would create two oversight panels that could remove elected county-level district attorneys from their posts if they are deemed to have acted in bad faith.

A similar bill passed the Senate last week. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has criticized district attorneys for not going after certain crimes he wants prosecuted, is likely to sign that legislation into law.

House Bill 231, which was authored by state Rep. Joseph Gullett, passed the Republican-controlled House on Monday along party lines. Republicans have promoted the bill as being necessary to take action against prosecutors who have engaged in willful or prejudicial misconduct, while Democrats have opposed the measure because it would remove the ability of district attorneys to have discretion in who they charge for misconduct-related offenses.

County district attorneys’ “prosecutorial discretion is vital to allowing [them] to examine the specific facts of each case when deciding if and how to prosecute, and that’s threatened under this bill,” said state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D).

The proposal is part of a larger push by right-wing lawmakers across the country to oust prosecutors who they consider too liberal, especially those who are refusing to prosecute low-level drug crimes or enforce new anti-abortion laws.

Critics of House Bill 231 noted that it appears to have a specific target in mind: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading an inquiry into an attempt by former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Willis is investigating Trump’s phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he demanded that the official “find” him 12,000 more votes so that he could override now-President Joe Biden’s win in the state. In that phone call, which was recorded, Trump threatened Raffensberger and his attorney with legal consequences if they didn’t comply with his request. It is illegal in Georgia to attempt to coerce officials to engage in election fraud.

Political commentators have noted that the bill that passed the state legislature this week — along with another Republican proposal that seeks to lower the recount signature threshold needed for elected officials in the state — came about around the same time that Trump-aligned Republicans realized that a recall campaign against Willis would be futile. Some of the most vociferous supporters of the bill are Trump allies who have been targeted by Willis’s investigation, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones (R), who was among the fake electors that Trump’s campaign tried to include in the Electoral College in order to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election.

The Trump inquiry is one of around 20,000 cases being examined by Willis’s office. Notably, Willis has spent much of her time as district attorney aggressively prosecuting people accused of gang activity while sidestepping opportunities to prosecute police officers, including in the case of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was shot and killed by Atlanta police as he ran away.

Willis has derided House Bill 231 as racist, as it has the potential to allow a state-centric panel to remove prosecutors from predominantly Black areas against voters’ preferences, including in her own jurisdiction.

“For the hundreds of years we’ve had prosecutors, this has been unnecessary. But now all of a sudden this is a priority,” Willis has stated. “And it is racist.”

Political observers have said that the proposal is a blatant attempt to go after Willis for investigating Trump.

“This is 100% so they can remove DA Fani Willis who is on verge of indicting Trump,” said commentator Dean Obeidallah.

“The GA Legislature passed a Bill to oversee prosecutors; making it easier to remove DAs,” podcaster Lana Quest said.

Republicans are “beholden” to Trump, Quest added, noting that “Fani Willis is a threat” to the former president and that Republicans “will do anything to stop her.”

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