Georgia lawmakers advance bill that could punish Trump prosecutor

<span>Photograph: Dennis Byron/AP</span>
Photograph: Dennis Byron/AP
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Georgia legislators in the state house passed a bill on Monday to revive a panel that can punish or remove elected prosecutors, potentially adding to career headaches for the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis.

When creating the first version of the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission last year, lawmakers cited the inaction of prosecutors in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case as its basis. They also referred to a decision made by the Athens-Clarke county district attorney to forgo charges on minor drug possession cases as an impetus for the law.

Related: How an alleged office romance could derail the Trump election interference case

Accusations that Willis, who is leading the sprawling corruption case against Trump and his allies over their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, may have had an inappropriate relationship with a special prosecutor have been central to the effort to revive the law.

The governor, Brian Kemp, signed an earlier bill into law last year, creating a panel of eight appointees with the power to remove prosecutors if the panel decided a prosecutor was mentally or physically incapacitated, had engaged in misconduct, or failed to prosecute cases for which probable cause existed.

The law immediately drew fire from district attorneys across the state – including Willis – who argued that it would be used to politically target progressive prosecutors. Willis flatly described the law as “racist”.

Language in the law required the Georgia supreme court to approve the commission’s processes. Late last year, the court announced it would deny approval, effectively killing the commission.

The new version of the law passed on Monday by Georgia’s house on a 90-75 party-line vote. It omits language requiring approval by the Georgia supreme court.

“The bill wasn’t good enough for the majority party to protect Ahmaud Arbery, but good enough to go after Fani Willis,” said Dar’shun Kendrick, a Democrat from DeKalb county who serves on the house judiciary committee. “Interesting how that worked out.”

The Georgia senate passed similar legislation to re-enact the law earlier this month. The two versions have differences in how incapacity is defined and how appeals might be handled, which must be worked out for a prosecutorial discipline commission bill to again pass to Kemp’s desk.

Separately, the Georgia senate created a special committee last week to investigate Willis’s office and claims that her appointment of Nathan Wade as a special prosecutor facilitated the misuse of public money. The senate investigative committee does not require approval by the house or by Kemp. It has subpoena power, but cannot punish Willis directly.

The Georgia house speaker, Jon Burns, touted the bill on Monday.

“Today, the House passed HB 881 to hold district attorneys and solicitors general across Georgia accountable. Georgians deserve district attorneys who are focused on upholding their oath of office, prosecuting criminals, and doing their job to keep our communities safe – and I am confident that the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission will ensure that happens,” he said. “I look forward to the senate acting quickly on this important legislation and delivering it to Governor Kemp to sign into law.”