ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia House members on Monday passed a bill aimed at reviving a commission with the power to discipline and dismiss prosecutorsruling Democrats aim to disrupt Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis‘ prosecution against the former president Donald Trump.
The House voted 95-75 along party lines for House Bill 881, sending it to the Senate for further debate. A similar bill was introduced by a Senate committee last week,
Although Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp legislation signed last year, creating the Prosecutor Qualifications Commission, it was unable to begin operating after the state Supreme Court’s decision in November refused to approve the rules governing its conduct. The judges said they had “serious doubts” about their ability to regulate prosecutors’ duties beyond the practice of law. Monday’s measure removes the requirement for Supreme Court approval.
“This commission will now be able to begin its real work, which is to hold rogue prosecutors who abuse their office accountable,” said Rep. Joseph Gullett, a Dallas Republican who sponsored the measure.
Gullett and some other Republicans deny that the measure directly targets Willis, citing instances of prosecutorial misconduct, including occasions in the past when Democrats supported the idea of a prosecutorial oversight committee.
But Democratic opposition to the commission has hardened, saying Republicans are trying to crush the will of Democratic voters.
“The commission will be able to proceed unilaterally and will have the ability to interfere and undermine an ongoing investigation into Donald J. Trump,” said House Minority Whip Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat. “You are taking action to protect former President Trump from ongoing criminal prosecution. »
Senators on Friday approved the creation of a special investigative committee that Republicans say will be used to determine whether Willis used state money for his own benefit by employing lawyer Nathan Wade as special prosecutor.
Trump Thursday joined an effort by co-defendant Michael Roman so that Willis, Wade and their offices dismissed the case. Ashleigh Merchant, Roman’s attorney, filed a motion Jan. 8 accusing Willis of having an inappropriate romantic relationship with Wade that resulted in a conflict of interest.
Willis has yet to publicly respond to allegations of a romantic relationship between her and Wade. But she vigorously defended Wade and his qualifications during a Jan. 14 service honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a black church in Atlanta. She then suggested that Wade’s questioning was rooted in racism.
A filing in Wade’s divorce case includes credit card statements that show Wade — after being hired as a special prosecutor — purchased plane tickets in October 2022 for him and Willis to travel to Miami and purchased tickets in April to San Francisco in their name. Republicans say Willis was improperly motivated by personal advantage in employing Wade.
Kemp said he preferred that the Prosecutors Oversight Committee and not the Senate committee investigate Willis’ accusations of misconduct. But Democrats warn that removing the requirement for the Supreme Court to review the rules could leave the commission itself without oversight. The measure would also make it more difficult for a court to overturn the commission’s action by imposing high standards of review.
“The question we should all be asking is who will control this commission,” said Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat. “To whom will they report? Certainly not the voters, because they are not elected. This should terrify us all.
Georgian law is one of several attempts across the country by Republicans to control prosecutors they don’t like. The Republicans have railed against progressive prosecutors after some brought fewer drug possession cases and called for shorter prison sentences, arguing that Democrats are coddling criminals.
“If you talk to victims of prosecutors in this state who aren’t doing their job, you’ll understand why we can’t delay this decision any further,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican.