Lawmakers propose oversight commission for district attorneys

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 1:59 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 5:55 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Georgia lawmakers want to create a state commission to investigate district attorneys and make it easier for voters to remove them from office.

“At the end of the day, the district attorney is supposed to protect the community,” said Georgia Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah). “The No. 1 chief law enforcement officer of a county. If they can’t protect the community, they’re failing.”

Rep. Petrea is one of several state representatives who co-sponsored two new bills aimed at holding District Attorneys accountable.

He joined those efforts, he said, after a WTOC investigation last year found the Chatham County DA’s Office was cutting deals with convicted killers to release them from jail on probation.

Petrea has openly criticized the Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones for her stance on DUIs and recent plea deals in murder cases.

House Bill 229 would make it easier for voters to remove a DA from office.

It reduces the requirements needed to have a recall election for a District Attorney.

House Bill 231 would create a new state oversight commission for prosecutors in Georgia.

The commission would have the power to discipline or remove an elected district attorney.

Under the proposal, the 5-person commission is made up of attorneys who would serve 4-year terms by appointment of the governor, the speaker of the house, the lieutenant governor and Senate Committee on Assignments.

Rep. Petrea said the state commission would be like the one that oversees judges in Georgia.

“Judges have this, but there is no oversight for district attorneys outside of the people that elect them, so the voters of Chatham County can hold our DA accountable by re-electing her in two years or not,” he said.

But critics of a similar measure that’s passed in other states, including Florida, have argued the commission can be used as a political tool by the governor to remove any DA that goes against his party’s interest.

A similar measure introduced last session by Rep. Joseph Gullet (R-District 19-Ackworth) failed to gain support in the Senate. But Rep. Petrea says he’s hopeful it will pass this time.

WTOC will follow the bills and keep you updated.