Georgia Senate backs its own prosecutor oversight bill

State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said he sponsored a bill last year to create a commission to oversee local prosecutors, as well as bill this year to fix that previous legislation, in response to former Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones’ indictment and conviction for misconduct in office. Robertson said judges and law enforcement officers all have an oversight panel and prosecutors should have something similar. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said he sponsored a bill last year to create a commission to oversee local prosecutors, as well as bill this year to fix that previous legislation, in response to former Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones’ indictment and conviction for misconduct in office. Robertson said judges and law enforcement officers all have an oversight panel and prosecutors should have something similar. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, File)

The Georgia Senate on Tuesday passed a second version of legislation that aims to let the newly created panel tasked with overseeing the state’s prosecutors begin its work.

Senators voted 29-22 in a mostly party-line vote, with state Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, joining Democrats to vote against the bill.

Last year, lawmakers created the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission and empowered it to sanction prosecutors once the state Supreme Court approved rules to guide the panel.

The law was challenged in court, and the Supreme Court said it had “grave doubts” about whether it had the constitutional authority to approve rules and standards of conduct for the commission as required by the law.

Senate Bill 332, sponsored by state Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican from Cataula, would remove the required Supreme Court oversight.

Robertson said he sponsored last year’s bill creating the commission and this year’s bill to amend the law in response to former Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones’ indictment and conviction for misconduct in office. Robertson said judges and law enforcement officers all have an oversight panel and prosecutors should have something similar.

“All we’re trying to do is hold every officer of the court to the same standard,” Robertson said. “It’s what’s right. It’s what the citizens who elected (the) district attorneys deserve.”

The House last month passed its own version of a fix to last year’s bill, House Bill 881, also removing the need for the Supreme Court’s approval.

State Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, joined Democrats in voting against a bill that would allow the state's Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to begin its work. Moore has called for the Legislature to investigate Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she brought an indictment against former President Donald Trump involving his efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. He said that work should not be left to an unelected commission. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

The battle over the commission is being closely watched partly because Donald Trump’s allies aim to use the law to punish Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for seeking election interference charges against the former president and more than a dozen others in their efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.

Moore told his colleagues that they should not be “passing the buck” to an unelected commission and should instead use the process already in state law that allows legislators to investigate and censure elected prosecutors.

“We have a rogue district attorney right now — Fani Willis in Fulton County — who is a domestic threat to our constitution, and we’re going to farm out the responsibility of keeping her accountable to this prosecutorial commission,” Moore said.

Shortly after Willis announced the indictments of Trump and his co-defendants, Moore began calling for a special legislative session to investigate the district attorney. He was unable to gather support for his call.

SB 332 now goes to the House for its consideration, but it’s unclear which version — if any — will pass the General Assembly this year.

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