Why a GOP bid to sanction Fani Willis could be ‘DOA’

The complaint that Georgia Senate leaders filed to punish Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she sought charges against former President Donald Trump may not gain traction.

That’s because experts say the proposed rules and code of conduct for a new state commission created by a Republican-backed law sets a relatively high bar to sanction or remove prosecutors.

Georgia State University law professor Clark D. Cunningham, who reviewed the draft regulations for the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, said the complaint filed this month against Willis would “probably be dead on arrival” under the proposed rules.

The draft policies, which were obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have yet to be approved by the Georgia Supreme Court and could still be significantly revised.

But the commission said that any conduct that occurs before the state Supreme Court approves the regulations won’t be subject to any discipline.

That could complicate the complaint, since Willis brought the election-interference charges against Trump and 18 of his allies in August, Cunningham said.

The GOP sponsors of the complaint note that it doesn’t specifically mention Trump. Instead, it seeks to link Willis to a spate of deaths in the Fulton County Jail, which has long struggled with overcrowding and a lack of resources.

Other elements in the proposed regulations also would make it difficult to use the law to reprimand Willis, Cunningham said.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett County, is one of eight GOP senators to file a complaint against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she brought charges against former President Donald Trump and 18 of his allies. Dixon has said the indictments, involving attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, were sparked by Willis' unabashed goal to become some sort of leftist celebrity. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

One proposed rule says a complaint could only be made by someone who has “personal knowledge” that a prosecutor should be disciplined, and it would require complainants to file sworn affidavits detailing the alleged violation. That would favor those who were personally involved in the alleged misconduct.

Another indicates that a prosecutor could only be removed from office if they’re found to be “unfit” to serve — which Cunningham said sets a “very high bar” in its definition.

Then there are the political implications. It’s harder to accuse Willis of orchestrating a witch hunt against Trump and his allies now that three of the 19 co-defendants charged with a “criminal enterprise” have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to cooperate with Willis’ team of prosecutors.

Prodded by Gov. Brian Kemp, state lawmakers created the commission earlier this year to reprimand “rogue” prosecutors. But Kemp and House Speaker Jon Burns have each said there’s no evidence that Willis should be punished under the new law.

The complaint filed earlier this month by eight Senate GOP leaders contends Willis “improperly cherry-picked cases to further her personal political agenda” and asks the panel to take “appropriate measures” to sanction her.

“The integrity of our justice system is at stake, and the trust of the community in the District Attorney’s Office has been severely eroded,” the complaint states.

Willis, who has criticized the law as racist and retaliatory, has declined to comment on the complaint. But she has long said that she can balance the high-profile trials in the Trump case with the other demands of her office.