SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A bill that can remove elected district attorneys is signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp.
Senate Bill 92 officially became Georgia law Friday, May 5. In short, it creates an eight-member oversight committee for district attorneys and gives it the power to investigate and remove them.
In a news release, Gov. Kemp says his main reason for signing the bill is to prioritize “public safety across our state.”
Savannah criminal defense attorney and part-time prosecutor Kurtis Bronson says it doesn’t come as a shock.
“I understand there’s a number of DAs around the state receiving a lot of backlash in the way their offices are being conducted,” says Bronson.
The committee, called Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, or PAQC, can investigate prosecutors and remove them if it’s proved they engage willful misconduct, are convicted of a crime, or use poor prosecutorial discretion, something Bronson says has sparked debate in the legal community.
He gives the following example: “They look at a crime, like misdemeanor marijuana. The law hasn’t been passed to make it legal, but it’s been quote-unquote decriminalized, and a lot of prosecutors have said they’re gonna reduce those to a blanket matter and rule all to disorderly conduct.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson also weighed in on SB 92 at his weekly press briefing, saying he has mixed feelings about the bill, in particular, the commission’s power to negate what voters decided.
“I am very clear that district attorneys are prosecutors, and I am very clear that I want crimes prosecuted in this community,” says Johnson, “Now in terms of the law that was signed, I’m just concerned about the slippery slope, and the possible circumventing of public will.”
Bronson says he does not believe the bill is overreaching, citing that committees like this exist for state employees.
“The judges have oversight committees, the public defenders are overseen by superior court judges, so to have another oversight over the prosecutors,” says Bronson, “I don’t really have an issue with that. I think it’s a good thing to prosecutors to their oath and their duties.”
News 3 reached out to Gov. Kemp office, asking if prosecutorial trends in Chatham County greatly impacted his willingness to sign the bill into law.
His office sent the following statement:
“While the governor is aware of the concerns of locals, he has not been privy to the dealings within the Chatham County DA’s office. This law he signed is about bringing accountability to all prosecutors not any specific one.”
News 3 also reached out to Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones for comment, and she says she is currently writing an op-ed on the bill.
To read a summary of the bill, click here.