The Georgia Supreme Court
ATLANTA — The Georgia State Supreme Court declined to endorse the regulations for a recently proposed commission responsible for disciplining and removing state prosecutors. Consequently, the commission will need help to initiate its operations.
Sure, Republicans in Georgia advocate for disciplinary actions or the removal of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. This request stems from her successful indictment of former President Donald Trump and 18 others.
In an order without a signature, the justices expressed significant concerns regarding their jurisdiction to regulate the responsibilities of district attorneys beyond the legal profession.
They explained that lawmakers had yet to explicitly instruct the judges to take action, so they chose not to make a definitive ruling.
The justices stated that if district attorneys exercise judicial power, it is within the inherent power of the head of the Judicial Branch to regulate that power. However, if district attorneys only exercise executive power, the regulation of that power would likely fall outside the scope of the judicial authority.
State Representative Houston Gaines, a Republican from Athens who played a crucial role in shepherding the law through the state House earlier this year, expressed his belief that lawmakers may potentially eliminate the need for court approval of the rules as early as January, thus enabling the commission to commence its operations.
After meticulous planning, the commission now has its appointees, rules, and regulations prepared for implementation.
Gaines expressed optimism, stating,
“Once the legislature resolves the pending matter from the court, rogue prosecutors will face appropriate consequences.”
Georgia’s law is part of a broader trend where Republicans control prosecutors they disagree with. They have criticized progressive prosecutors who have pursued fewer drug possession cases and advocated for shorter prison sentences, contending that Democrats are being too lenient with criminals.
The commission is being challenged by four district attorneys who argue that it infringes upon their power, leading to a lawsuit seeking its overturning on constitutional grounds. This lawsuit comes after successfully navigating the hurdle of state Supreme Court approval of rules.
Sherry Boston, a Democratic district attorney in DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta, and one of the four plaintiffs expressed in a statement on Wednesday that the order brings attention to the core shortcomings of the law.
According to Boston’s statement, the justices’ decision to halt this unconstitutional assault on the state’s prosecutors has been met with satisfaction. In September, a Georgia judge dismissed a plea by the four district attorneys to suspend the law, indicating that she is likely to rule against their lawsuit in the end.
Superior Court Judge
The plaintiffs assert that prosecutors are altering their conduct due to concerns of being investigated. However, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Paige Reese Whitaker determined that the lawsuit was unlikely to be successful.
She pointed out that the Georgia Constitution explicitly allows the General Assembly to assign responsibilities to district attorneys and establish procedures for disciplinary actions and dismissals.
Critics argue that the law introduces a pro-prosecution bias, while proponents, such as Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, assert that failure to prosecute by district attorneys constitutes a violation of their oaths of office.
American Judicial System
The law poses significant inquiries regarding prosecutorial discretion, a fundamental principle in the American judicial system. This principle empowers prosecutors to determine the appropriate criminal charges and the severity of sentences to pursue.
The Georgia law stipulates that prosecutors are prohibited from refusing to prosecute entire crime categories and instead must assess costs on a case-by-case basis. It applies to district attorneys and elected solicitors general, who handle lower-level crimes in certain counties across Georgia.
Commissioners have indicated they can only be absent from operations until consoles are enacted. In September, they decided not to investigate any actions that occurred before the approval of the rules.
The impact of this decision on petitions requesting the commission to take disciplinary action against Willis, who successfully obtained indictments against Trump and others in August, remains uncertain.
Randy McGinley, the district attorney for Newton and Walton counties, who has been appointed to lead the commission, chose not to comment on Wednesday.
McGinley expressed his intention to schedule a meeting for the commission next week to address the matter.