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Georgia’s GOP House Speaker slams push to defund Fani Willis amid hurricane

Aug 11, 2023

Georgia’s GOP House Speaker is slamming his colleagues’ efforts to defund Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) amid the ongoing hurricane, suggesting that it could violate the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns (R) addressed the GOP caucus in a letter Wednesday, hitting back on some Republican members’ push “to defund a duly-elected district attorney of this state and her office in an attempt to interfere with the criminal justice system.” He suggested that the effort to remove a district attorney from office should not take precedence over “human needs” in the state, like the aftereffects of Hurricane Idalia.

“While this real-time crisis unfolds, unfortunately, we continue to have a few members of the General Assembly making misleading or false claims about the General Assembly’s lawful powers regarding an ongoing criminal case before our Judiciary,” he wrote in the letter that was obtained by The Hill. “It is an unfortunate reality of today’s politics that theatrics sometimes garner more attention than genuine human needs like those that will unfold today in south and coastal Georgia.”

He warned that removing funding for the district attorney would also have the “unintended consequence” of prompting delays or preventing prosecutions in serious offenses including murder, rape and armed robbery. He said if members were actually concerned about serious crime in Atlanta, then the move to defund the district attorney would “obviously be harmful to public safety.”

“It is unfortunate some would knowingly suggest such a reckless course of action despite the devastating effects it would have,” he wrote.

He also explained how reducing the pay of an individual district attorney or assistant district attorney would mean reducing the pay of all district attorneys across the state, noting that funds are not provided to individual circuits on an individual basis. Instead, circuits receive funding for one district attorney and an additional assistant district attorney based on the total judge count and other considerations, he said in the letter.

Burns also suggested that taking such action could violate the Georgia Constitution.

“Targeting one specific DA in this manner certainly flaunts the idea of separation of powers, if not outright violates it,” he wrote. “We as members of the General Assembly have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the State of Georgia, these United States and the laws thereof. We trust that our criminal justice system will deal with this matter impartially and fairly, and we will not improperly intercede in this matter in direct contradiction to the oaths we took.”

While the letter does not explicitly mention Willis, a handful of Republican state lawmakers have called for a special session to impeach and remove her or defund her office. Last week, state Sen. Colton Moore, who represents the northwest corner of Georgia, said Willis’s “political persecution” of former President Trump and her behavior following the indictment merits an investigation.

“The Legislature has this great check and balance when it comes to controlling the purse. Ultimately, from what I’ve seen, I think she should completely be defunded of any state dollars. People in northwest Georgia and Georgians all over don’t want their tax dollars going to fund this type of political persecution,” Moore told The Hill earlier this month.

Willis brought an indictment against Trump and 18 other co-defendants earlier this month over their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Since then, some Republicans and Trump’s allies in Washington and Georgia have begun attacking Willis over the indictment.

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