Georgia Republicans rally behind new oversight of prosecutors

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Georgia lawmakers are racing ahead with legislation that would give the state new powers to investigate, discipline or even oust local prosecutors.

The Senate on Thursday approved a measure to create a commission that could investigate complaints and recommend that district attorneys and solicitors general be sanctioned or removed if they violate their duties. A similar proposal is pending in the House.

The idea has bounced around the Capitol for years, but it gained momentum this year with support from Gov. Brian Kemp and newly elected Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who have both criticized prosecutors they see as flouting their legal obligations.

Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson, the Senate measure’s sponsor, said it would punish prosecutors who act “not based on evidence but based on political leanings,” reflecting a concern from GOP lawmakers that low-level drug offenses aren’t being seriously addressed by some officials.

“In order to solve this problem, there needs to be oversight,” said Robertson, a retired Muscogee County sheriff’s deputy.

Democratic opponents said layers of accountability for the state’s 50 district attorneys are already baked into the law, including oversight by the State Bar of Georgia. And they warn it represents a fresh effort to erode local control.

“I worry about our political climate,” state Sen. Josh McLaurin said, adding that lawmakers should “keep a watchful eye that we’re not going down the path of creating more and more government apparatus over local institutions.”

And Democratic state Sen. Harold Jones, a former solicitor general, called it a “bureaucratic nightmare” riddled with legal errors, such as creating a new term called “plausible cause.”

‘Call it how I see it’

The measure, which passed 32-24, has split district attorneys. Nearly two dozen signed a letter saying they back creation of a panel that’s similar to the Judicial Qualifications Commission that polices the state’s judges.

They’re opposed by a group of district attorneys who say it preempts local control and would deprive prosecutors of the discretion to pursue criminal charges.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

One of the most prominent critics is Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is weighing whether to seek criminal charges against Donald Trump and his allies involving their efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

She accused GOP sponsors of bringing the legislation because they feel threatened by the rapid rise of minorities elected to prosecutorial posts in Georgia.

“I’m tired and I’m just going to call it how I see it,” she said at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last week. “I, quite frankly, think the legislation is racist. I don’t know what other thing to call it.”

The supporters of Senate Bill 92 reject that contention, and they say new oversight is crucial to bring accountability to wayward prosecutors and force them to enforce laws the Legislature adopts.

“What do we do about these prosecutors who won’t prosecute?” asked Republican state Sen. Ed Setzler.

They often cite several prosecutors who have sparked recent controversy.

Chief among them is Dick Donovan, a former Paulding County district attorney who was able to stay in office for nearly a year after he was indicted in 2021 on fraud charges. Donovan, a Republican, resigned in 2022 after pleading guilty to a misconduct violation.

The second is Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, who is among a growing group of liberal Democratic prosecutors who have declined to bring charges for certain drug offenses.

Kemp and other Republicans have criticized her handling of the office, which has suffered an exodus of departures. Gonzalez has said the notion that prosecutors don’t already operate under oversight from the state’s legal system is a “false idea.”

Robertson also invoked the cases of former District Attorney Mark Jones, a Columbus-area prosecutor who was convicted of misconduct charges, and ex-Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who was charged with obstructing the 2020 probe into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Under the terms of the measure, members of the commission would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker and legislative leaders. All must be attorneys.

Prosecutors could be penalized for “willful misconduct in office” and “persistent failure to carry out duties.” The panel would refer its recommendations to the Georgia Supreme Court.