Kemp signs legislation for Prosecuting Attorneys Qualification Commission

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Wednesday related to the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualification Commission.

Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp will be joined by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, House Speaker Jon Burns, and Senate and House leadership.

Senate Bill 332 provides legislative fixes that will allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to move forward with commencing operations.

The commission will have the power to discipline and remove prosecutors from cases in Georgia. Kemp signed legislation last year creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, but it was unable to begin operating after the state Supreme Court in November refused to approve rules governing its conduct. Justices said they had "grave doubts" about their ability to regulate the duties of district attorneys beyond the practice of law. 

The commission could open an investigation into Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over her handling of the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. However, Republicans deny that the measure is directly aimed at Willis, citing instances of prosecutor misconduct, including occasions in the past when Democrats supported the idea of a prosecutor oversight panel after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick.

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Georgia’s law is one of multiple attempts nationwide by Republicans to control prosecutors they don’t like. Republicans have inveighed against progressive prosecutors after some have brought fewer drug possession cases and sought shorter prison sentences, arguing Democrats are coddling criminals.

District attorneys react to Prosecuting Attorneys Qualification Commission law

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston sent the following statement following the signing:

"The signing of Senate Bill 332 shows that Republicans care little about the State Constitution and will stop at nothing to steal power from Georgia voters.  The bill fails to address the constitutional concerns raised by the legal community over the last year about the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission and even worse, removes the Supreme Court’s oversight of the body.  Now this group of political appointees—chosen solely by Republicans—has unchecked power to remove prosecutors whose decisions they disagree with, no matter how well a district attorney or solicitor general represents the voters who elected them in the courtroom." 

Jared T. Williams, district attorney of the Augusta Judicial Circuit wrote in response:

"The law signed today is not about ‘prosecutor oversight’, it’s about Voter Overrule. It allows members of one party to challenge and remove elected officials of another without any regard for the will of the voters who elected them. 

"For those who may recall, a similar bill was passed last year. I and three other DAs formed a bipartisan coalition to file a lawsuit challenging the law as unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court found the previous bill to be so legally deficient that it was unenforceable. The new bill signed into law today does nothing to address the constitutional concerns the legal community has raised, and instead simply cuts out the Supreme Court’s supervision altogether.

"I will challenge this law just like the previous. I am licensed to practice law in three states, and I swore an oath in all three of them to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. When a law violates the Constitution, especially a law that threatens the voice of voters, I will never back down from that fight"

Praise for SB 332's passage

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones issued a statement in support of the new law, writing: 

"I am thankful to Governor Kemp for signing this vital piece of legislation into law. Now, the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission can begin its important work and rein in rogue District Attorneys that refuse to uphold the rule of law in our state. If District Attorneys want to continue down this reckless road and put the interests of criminals ahead of law-abiding citizens, they will be held accountable."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.