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State lawmakers move ahead with changes to prosecutorial oversight group

The Georgia House of Representatives approved legislation Monday that would let a newly created oversight board for prosecutors set its own rules.

House Bill 881, which passed along party lines, is a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly’s GOP majorities passed last year creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to investigate complaints lodged against local district attorneys. The panel will have the power to remove prosecutors it deems guilty of a variety of offenses including mental or physical incapacity, willful misconduct or failure to perform the duties of the office, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, or conduct that brings the office into disrepute.

But the commission has been stalled since the state Supreme Court ruled last fall that it does not have the authority to review the rules the commission adopts, as the bill provides. Instead, the new bill turns over that authority to the commission itself.

State Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens) spoke in favor of the bill.

"We can't wait any longer," Gaines said. "The appointees are are done. The funding is there, the rules are and regulations are ready to go. This bill simply gets the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission up and running and the reason we can't wait anymore is because if you talk to victims across this state of district attorneys who are not doing their job, you'll recognize why we can't delay this any further."

The bill drew opposition from Democrats in the chamber, who have said the measure is designed in part to target Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is prosecuting former President Donald Trump.

"I didn't hear anybody stand up here and ask for oversight when a corrupt District Attorney in Brunswick, Georgia decided to hide evidence when Ahmaud Aubery died," siad Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway). "Nobody said it's time now to do something about rogue DAs. If that ain't rogue, then grits ain't grocery."

House Bill 881 passed along party lines, 95 – 75.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.