Kemp signs Georgia law reviving prosecutor sanctions panel. Democrats fear it's aimed at Fani Willis

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law Wednesday that lets a state commission begin operating with powers to discipline and remove prosecutors, potentially disrupting Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

“This legislation will help us ensure rogue and incompetent prosecutors are held accountable if they refuse to uphold the law,” Kemp said before signing the bill, flanked by Republican legislative leaders. “As we know all too well, crime has been on the rise across the country, and is especially prevalent in cities where prosecutors are giving criminals a free pass or failing to put them behind bars due to lack of professional conduct.”

Though Kemp signed legislation last year creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, it was unable to begin operating after the state Supreme Court in November refused to approve rules governing its conduct. The justices said they had “grave doubts” about their ability to regulate the duties of district attorneys beyond the practice of law. Tuesday’s measure removes the requirement for Supreme Court approval.

The measure is likely to face renewed legal challenges. Four district attorneys dropped their previous lawsuit challenging the commission after the Supreme Court set it aside.

The law would require district attorneys and solicitors general, who prosecute lower level cases in some counties, to evaluate each case on its own, instead of declining to prosecute classes of offenses. Opponents say that would mean prosecutors couldn’t use their discretion.

Republican House Speaker Jon Burns of Newington said the House's efforts have not been directly aimed at Willis, who already is facing an effort in court to have her removed from the Trump prosecution over a romantic relationship she had with the special prosecutor she employed in that case.

Republicans cited other instances of alleged prosecutor misconduct, including occasions in the past when Democrats supported the idea of a prosecutor oversight panel after the killing of a Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, near Brunswick.

“For us in the House our focus is not on any one person, not on any one situation," Burns told reporters after the law was signed. "It’s about asking the folks that are elected, just like me, to do their jobs and protect the citizens of this state.”

But Democrats say Republicans are trying to override the will of Democratic voters and are inviting abuse by creating a commission without some other body reviewing its rules.

The law was enacted even as the state Senate has created a special investigative committee that Republicans say will be used to probe whether Willis has used state money to benefit herself by employing attorney Nathan Wade as a special prosecutor in the Trump case. That committee has already heard testimony from Ashleigh Merchant, the defense attorney for co-defendant Michael Roman who first raised questions about Wade.

Willis and Wade both testified at a hearing last month that they had engaged in a romantic relationship, but they rejected the idea that Willis improperly benefited from it as lawyers for Trump and some of his co-defendants alleged. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has not yet decided on whether Willis and Wade can continue with the prosecution.

McAfee on Wednesday dismissed some of the charges against Trump and others, but the rest of the sweeping racketeering indictment remains intact. He quashed six counts in the indictment, including three against Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee. But he left in place other counts — including 10 facing Trump — and said prosecutors could seek a new indictment to try to reinstate the ones he dismissed.

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.