Prosecutor Oversight Bill Gains Final Passage in General Assembly

Dave Williams

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024

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The Georgia House of Representatives gave final passage Tuesday to legislation letting a recently created oversight board for prosecutors set its own rules.

The bill cleared the Republican-controlled House 97-73 primarily along party lines. The state Senate, where the legislation originated, passed it early last month, also in a party-line vote.

Senate Bill 332 is a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed last year creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to investigate complaints lodged against local district attorneys.

The panel will have the power to remove prosecutors it deems guilty of a variety of offenses including mental or physical incapacity, willful misconduct or failure to perform the duties of the office, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, or conduct that brings the office into disrepute.

The commission has been stalled since the state Supreme Court ruled in November that it does not have the authority to review the rules the commission adopts, as the 2023 bill provided. Instead, the new bill gives that authority to the commission itself.

“The commissioners are all in place,” Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas, the bill’s chief sponsor, said on the House floor Tuesday. “It’s ready to get to work.”

But Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, said taking away the state Supreme Court’s authority to set the commission’s rules would leave a panel of unelected commissioners appointed by Georgia’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor, and House speaker able to make partisan decisions on prosecutors unchecked.

“We are creating an oversight commission without oversight,” she said.

Evans and other Democrats also argued an oversight commission for prosecutors is unnecessary because they already must answer to the Georgia Bar Association, judges, and – ultimately – local voters.

“I trust Georgia voters to vote in their best interests,” said House Minority Whip Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville.

Republicans countered that the legislation is needed to rein in “rogue” district attorneys around the state who are refusing to prosecute criminal suspects. Several GOP lawmakers cited instances in Athens, Paulding County, and the infamous failure by the Glynn County district attorney originally assigned to the Ahmaud Arbery murder case to prosecute the suspects.

“There have been deliberate decisions to ignore whole sections of the Georgia code,” said Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth. “We can’t afford to have any (judicial) circuit not enforcing the law for the sake of public safety.”

The legislation now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp, who is expected to sign it.