The Georgia House has passed a bill reestablishing an oversight panel for county prosecutors, potentially affecting Fulton County DA Fani Willis.
The Georgia House of Representatives has passed a bill to revive an oversight panel with powers to discipline and remove wayward county prosecutors, which could potentially target alleged misconduct by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in her case against former President Donald Trump.
“This commission will now be able to begin their real work, which is bringing accountability to those rogue prosecuting attorneys who abuse their office,” Rep. Joseph Gullett, a Republican who sponsored the measure, told House members on Monday.
The bill lays out grounds for discipline, removal, or “involuntary retirement” of wayward prosecutors, including for engaging in “willful misconduct” or for being convicted of a “crime involving moral turpitude” or persistently failing to carry out their duties.
She’s accused of having had an “improper” relationship with her top Trump prosecutor and benefitting from the relationship financially, among other allegations.
Her office did not respond to an earlier request for comment on the accusations.
“The commission will be able to unilaterally proceed and have the ability to interfere and undermine an ongoing investigation against Donald J. Trump,” House Minority Whip Sam Park, a Democrat, told The Associated Press.
“You are taking action to protect former President Trump from an ongoing criminal prosecution.”
President Trump maintains his innocence in the case and has called it a politically-driven prosecution meant to derail his 2024 presidential bid.
‘Proud to Sign’
Following the bill’s passage, Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns, a Republican, issued a statement saying that “Georgians deserve District Attorneys who are focused on upholding their oath of office, prosecuting criminals, and doing their job to keep our communities safe—and I am confident that the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission will ensure that happens.”
Mr. Burns expressed hope for quick passage of the measure in the Senate and called on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to sign it into law quickly.
Mr. Kemp, in turn, issued a statement indicating his intention to sign it as soon as it clears the Senate while commending the House for “swift passage” of the measure.
“I was proud to sign legislation last summer that established this commission and look forward to the Senate’s quick action on the bill,” he said.
“I am not going to stand idly by as rogue or incompetent prosecutors refuse to uphold the law,” Mr. Kemp said during a signing ceremony at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in Savannah in May 2023.
However, the Georgia Supreme Court justices blocked the panel’s operation, with the justices saying they had “grave doubts” about their ability to regulate the duties of district attorneys beyond the scope of the practice of law.
“If district attorneys exercise judicial power, our regulation of the exercise of that power may well be within our inherent power as the head of the Judicial Branch,” the Georgia Supreme Court justices wrote in an unsigned order. “But if district attorneys exercise only executive power, our regulation of the exercise of that power would likely be beyond the scope of our judicial power.”
In light of that setback, lawmakers introduced House Bill 881, which eliminates the requirement for Supreme Court approval and paves the way for the panel to begin its work.
Besides removing the need for Supreme Court oversight, the amended version of the bill adjusts the standard for mental/physical incapacity, allows appeals to a local superior court judge, and permits appeals to any county where the prosecutor has worked.
While it’s unclear whether the panel would focus its attention on Ms. Willis, Republicans have been sharply critical of her conduct.
An attorney representing Michael Roman, one of the co-defendants, filed a motion on Jan. 8 to dismiss the Fulton County election interference case, alleging misconduct on the part of Fulton County prosecutors.
Ms. Merchant also accused Ms. Willis of using funds meant for clearing a pandemic-era backlog of cases in Fulton County to pay Mr. Wade a large sum of money.
Documents show Mr. Wade has been paid at a rate of $250 per hour for his involvement in the case, or around $650,000 in total.
Mr. Roman is seeking to disqualify Ms. Willis and her office from the election interference case, per his attorney’s Jan. 8 filing.
Actions Seeking Accountability
The Fulton County Audit Committee has asked Ms. Willis to address the “improper” relationship allegations.
The resolution calls Ms. Willis’ indictment “the severest case of gross abuse of discretion” while alleging that she “grossly violated” her oath of office, in which she swore to be impartial.
Ms. Byrd’s impeachment resolution also accuses Ms. Willis of engaging in an “inappropriate” and “unethical” relationship with Mr. Wade while alleging that she profited from the relationship.
There are a total of 22 articles of impeachment in the resolution, each an alleged violation of Georgia Code 16-10-1.
The alleged misconduct includes ongoing expenditure of “significant public funds for the purpose of hiring a special assistant district attorney with whom District Attorney Willis had, and may yet have an ongoing romantic relationship,” the Senate resolution reads.
If such a relationship were proven to exist, it would amount to a “clear conflict of interest and a fraud upon the taxpayers of Fulton County and the State of Georgia,” potentially leading to Ms. Willis’ recusal, delays in the trial against President Trump, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and disciplinary actions, per the resolution.
Ms. Willis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
In prior remarks regarding the scandal, however, she suggested racism was the motivation behind the scrutiny.