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Local News

Fulton judge to rule in two weeks on Fani Willis disqualification motion in 2020 election case

(Credit: Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
March 1, 2024

A Fulton County judge on Friday said he plans to rule in the next two weeks on whether to remove District Attorney Fani Willis and her team of prosecutors from the high-profile 2020 election interference case that has been sidetracked by a series of contentious court filings and court hearings.

Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said Friday that he intends to mull over legal questions and witness credibility issues that cropped in recent weeks while the the state and attorneys representing Donald Trump and his co-defendants argued constituted prosecutorial misconduct while Willis had a romantic relationship with the special prosecutor she hired in 2021 to lead the sweeping case.

Fulton D.A.’s office prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred for more than three hours on Friday over how high the legal threshold is for removing a district attorney from a case for alleged ethical violations or for other misconduct. According to prosecutors, the defense has failed to prove that Willis benefited financially from the Trump case or that the trial outcome is connected to her starting a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade several months after he accepted the position.

Willis testified under oath at an earlier hearing she paid for her share of travel costs in cash.

Defense attorneys claim Willis gave her longtime boyfriend Nathan Wade a lucrative contract funded by taxpayers to be the lead prosecutor in the election case. Wade spent thousands of dollars on the couple’s travel to take vacations together on cruises out of the country, weekend trips out of state and other expenses.

According to Fulton prosecutor Adam Abbate, if Willis’ motive was to profit from the case, then she should not have gone against a special grand jury recommendation that listed Trump and 38 other alleged conspirators for trying to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. In August, a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 co-defendants that included former members of his inner circle and other allies.

“More importantly, why would Ms. Willis repeatedly ask this court to set a trial date as soon as possible if her motive in prosecuting this case was to continue to financially gain as alleged from the prosecution of the case,” Abbate said. “It doesn’t line up  because it doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t exist.”

John Merchant III, an attorney for co-defendant Michael Roman, said that the defendants have the witness testimony and corroborating evidence to meet the “appearance of a conflict of interest” legal threshold needed to remove a district attorney from a case.

Willis and Wade testified at a hearing on Feb. 15 that their romantic relationship began several months after he was hired for the case and ended last summer. According to the defense attorneys, Wade’s cell phone records and other witness testimony indicate they began dating before Willis began her first term as district attorney in January 2021.

“The reason why the appearance of a conflict is so prescient here is because  if this court allows this kind of behavior to go on and allows D.A.s across the state to engage in these kinds of activities, the entire public confidence in the system will be shot,” Merchant said.

“Willis claims that she used cash to repay Wade and the reason they can’t account for it is because they came up with a cash theory,” Merchant said about the Feb. 15 testimony of Wade and Willis. 

Abbate accused the defense of falling far short of their claims that testimony from Wade’s former law partner and ex-divorce attorney, Terrence Bradley, would be sufficient for impeaching Wade and other D.A. office staff members for lying about the extent of the relationship.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow said that Willis and Wade have the strongest motive to be untruthful about them becoming a couple well in advance of the November 2021.

“What happens if the relationship started before November 1? They get disqualified. Who has the best motive of anyone to lie? Who has the most at stake to lie? They do. Who wants to stay in this case for whatever the financial reason may be. They do.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.