Georgia legislature considers bills to remove prosecutors amid Trump election probe

The Georgia State Capitol building is seen in this file photo.

Washington CNN  — 

Georgia’s Republican-led state legislature is considering a set of bills that would establish a commission with the power to remove prosecutors and district attorneys from their posts.

Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, say additional oversight is necessary to prevent “soft on crime” prosecutors from endangering Georgians. But Democrats are taking note of the timing – Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is deciding whether to pursue indictments following her office’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia – as well as the fact that several GOP champions of the effort, including current Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, have been targeted in Willis’ investigation.

They have also raised concerns about undermining the will of the voters and removing minority prosecutors.

House Bill 231 would create the “Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, which shall have the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of appointed or elected district attorneys or solicitors-general.”

The commission would consist of eight members. Five would be on an investigative panel tasked with investigating “alleged conduct constituting grounds for discipline” and the other three would be a part of a hearing panel that adjudicates charges and issues “disciplinary and incapacity orders.”

The standards of conduct that would justify a prosecutor’s removal include mental and physical incapacity, being convicted of a crime and “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute.”

The House bill passed in a 98-75 vote on Monday and now heads to the state Senate, which passed similar legislation, SB 92, last week.

And House Bill 229, which was introduced early in February, would lower the threshold required to initiate a recall of a prosecutor to just 2% of voters, while other state offices would have to garner 15% or 30%.

In recent years, concerns over rising crime have prompted intense political scrutiny of some progressive-minded prosecutors, such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

But Willis, the first woman and first Black woman to lead the Fulton County district attorney’s office, observed in testimony before the state Senate Judiciary Committee last month that “this bill was never deemed necessary until an historic thing happened in 2020. And let’s just talk about it and tell the truth,” saying that in 2020, Georgia went from having five minority district attorneys to 14.

She said it was “dangerous” to undo decisions made by voters over policy disagreements and, in a recent interview with The New York Times, flatly characterized the bills as racist.

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, a Republican, angrily rejected Willis’ argument during the February hearing.

“For you to come in here and try to make this about racism, that this bill is directed at any district attorney or solicitor because of racism, is absurd, and it’s offensive, and it’s a racist statement on its own.”

CNN has reached out to Willis for comment.

On Truth Social, Trump championed legislators who “want to make it easier to remove and replace local rogue prosecutors who are incompetent, racist, or unable to properly do their job” but did not refer to Willis’ investigation into efforts around the 2020 election.

Georgia state Sen. Nabilah Islam, a Democrat, told CNN that the commission created by the legislation would not “reflect the state’s diversity and instead will be stacked with Republican loyalists who want to overturn the will of the local voters who elect their district attorney.”

“Right now, we have one district attorney who is investigating election interference by Trump and many Republicans, some of whom serve in the legislature,” she added. “It’s not coincidental SB 92 is introduced at a time when minority district attorneys now represent more than 50% of the Georgia population. Their voters elected them to use their discretion to prioritize violent crime and not prosecute women, doctors and low-level offenses like marijuana possession.”