Gov. Kemp signs district attorney oversight bill in Chatham Co.
CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill that creates an oversight commission for district attorneys.
Gov. Kemp, joined by other state leaders and the Chatham County sheriff, signed SB 92 at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
Gov. Kemp said the bill will create an eight-member prosecuting attorneys qualifications commission. He says it’s needed because he’s tired of seeing criminals let off the hook and back on the street by some prosecutors.
Gov. Kemp says the oversight commission will be similar to the judicial qualifications commission which investigates ethical misconduct by Georgia judges.
“Misguided priorities and poor leadership are driving experienced and talented prosecutors out of their offices. Georgians deserve better than that. They deserve the same accountability for our prosecutors as we have for the judges in our state,” Gov. Kemp said.
He said if DAs don’t perform their duties correctly according to the commission, a recall election can take place.
The bill had equal amounts of support and push back from lawmakers.
His support for this legislation comes from concerns of resignations and plea deals for killers and sexual predators in some district attorneys’ offices.
“People are just finally fed up with local prosecutors that simply are not doing their job and we know that firsthand. When you have sexual predators that are getting off scotch free simply because a simple procedure or date is not followed in a judicial proceeding those kinds of things are outrageous to the local communities and to parents like us,” Gov. Kemp said.
Majority of democrats in the general assembly voted against the bill.
One of those lawmakers is Representative Anne Westbrook of Chatham County. As an attorney herself, she says she feels like the bill is unnecessary because the bar association already oversees district attorneys. If complaints are made the bar association can step in.
Afraid that there’s also political motive behind the bill, she says the decision should be left to voters.
“Voters are the ones who need to decide whether their DA is doing a good job or not,” Westbrook said. “They’re perfectly capable of doing it and we need to let them do it.”
Local state representative talks about new oversight commission
State Rep. Jesse Petrea, of Savannah, was a co-sponsor of the legislation aimed at holding district attorneys accountable.
Rep. Petrea says he joined those efforts after a WTOC investigation last year found the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office was cutting deals with convicted killers to release them from jail on probation.
He said this law is all about holding powerful DA’s accountable and making sure victims and their families, get the justice they deserve.
Rep. Petrea said Georgia’s first Prosecuting Attorney’s Qualifications Commission will hold powerful DA’s accountable when they don’t follow the law. He has been an outspoken critic of Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook-Jones and other progressive DA’s.
“I think it’s a powerful statement that the governor chose Savannah to be the site to sign this bill. We have a multitude of jurisdictions, communities, that have suffered with so-called ‘progressive’ DA’s. And, simply incompetent DA’s,” Rep. Petrea said.
The 8-member group - appointed by state lawmakers - will now have the power to discipline and even remove elected DA’s.
Rep. Petrea questions anyone who opposes the oversight.
“It makes you wonder why those who don’t want this, what do they have to hide? Why are they afraid of reasonable oversight that almost every professional person in our society has? Whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer, or anything else. Almost everyone has some sort of oversight. One would think that they would welcome that,” Rep. Petrea said.
Rep. Petrea has a message for Chatham County DA Shalena Cook Jones, in particular.
“Your job is to protect this community by holding criminals accountable for their crimes. Please, just do your job,” he said.
WTOC has reached out to the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office for reaction to Friday’s news. They have not provided that yet.
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