Judge rules that Fani Willis can continue to lead the case against Georgia Trump

(John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Judge rules that Fani Willis can continue to lead the case against Georgia Trump

Election 2024

Jenny Jarvie

March 15, 2024

A judge

delivered a blow to Donald Trump’s legal team on Friday

ruled Friday that Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis could continue to lead the case against election interference in Georgia






because her romantic relationship with her lead accuser did not amount to a direct conflict of interest.

But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said so

This relationship had created the appearance of a conflict of interest and he issued an ultimatum: she or the special prosecutor with whom she had a relationship had to drop the case.

McAfee said Willis’ relationship with special counsel Nathan Wade did not warrant a disqualification.

but the relationship is

undermined the sweeping racketeering trial that is one of four criminal cases against the former president.

“Prosecution of this case cannot proceed unless the state chooses one of two options,” McAfee ruled. “The district attorney, along with the entire office, may choose to step aside and refer the prosecutor to the Board of Prosecutors for reinstatement.” Alternatively, SADA Wade can withdraw, allowing the prosecutor, the defendants and the public to move forward without his presence or reward distracting from and potentially jeopardizing the merits of this case.

Trump and his co-defendants have pushed for Willis to be disqualified, which would have derailed the case and likely delayed the start date of a trial that could significantly impact the Nov. 5 presidential election. Willis had filed for trial in August.

But the timeline is still uncertain. It is almost certain that McAfee’s ruling will be appealed.

DISQUALIFIED: The case now goes to the

Council of Prosecutors of Georgia,

an impartial body that trains and supports prosecutors. It will likely transfer the investigation to another Georgia prosecutor, who could leave the case as is or broaden or narrow its scope by dropping or adding charges. A new prosecutor could also drop the case.

In making its decision, McAfee had to weigh which legal standard for disqualification would apply: an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. He also had to determine the facts of the case: the nature of the relationship between Willis and Wade, what types of money may have been exchanged and when the relationship ended.

Willis, a Democrat, was a newly elected prosecutor in Fulton County when she opened a “high priority” criminal investigation in February 2021 into Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden. After losing Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes, Trump has pushed baseless claims of election fraud and pressured GOP leaders in the state to help him overturn the outcome.

In August 2023, a Fulton County grand jury charged Trump and 18 of his allies in a sweeping 98-page indictment with racketeering and a dozen other crimes. Four of the defendants have now pleaded guilty to some of the charges.

The relationship between Willis and Wade first came to public attention in January when an attorney for Mike Roman, Trump’s co-defendant and former campaign official, filed a motion accusing Willis and Wade of engaging in an improper, clandestine personal relationship. They tried to stop Willis and her office from prosecuting the case, alleging that Willis was in a relationship with Wade when she hired him in November 2021 and wrongfully benefited when she accompanied him on vacations that he paid for.

Willis and Wade have acknowledged that they were in a relationship. But they tested that it didn’t start until early 2022, months after Willis hired Wade, and ended last summer. They also tested splitting the travel costs.

Prosecutors have argued that there was no conflict of interest and that there is no evidence that the prosecutor directly or indirectly benefited financially from the relationship.

Last month, the two sides spoke during hearings that played out like a soap opera, as attorneys questioned Wade about whether Willis had paid him back in cash for her share of the vacations and asked Willis who paid when they went out to eat.

On the witness stand, Wade described a birthday trip to Belize as a gift from Willis. Willis described a Napa Valley wine tour where she paid cash for a combination of champagne, chocolate and caviar. She admitted that she didn’t really like winning


and preferred Gray Goose vodka.

Visibly upset when defense lawyers accused her of lying about the timeline of their relationship, Willis dismissed the defense allegations as “lies” and railed against what she saw as intrusions into her personal life.

You’re confused. Do you think I’m on trial, Willis, who at one point pushes back on Roman lawyer Ashleigh Merchant. These people are on trial for trying to steal a 2020 election. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to bring me to justice.

Defense attorneys argue that allowing Willis to preside over the case threatens to undermine public confidence in an already charged and sensitive investigation. According to them, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is enough to remove her from the case.

This is disputed by Willis’ lawyers

, WHO . She

argued in a lawsuit that disqualifying a prosecutor requires a “high standard of proof” and that the defense had the burden of proving an actual conflict of interest.

Trump’s lawyers have continued to push the idea that Willis and Wade are lying about the timeline of the relationship.

The week after prosecutors conducted the test, attorneys filed an affidavit with cell phone records that they said showed Willis and Wade had exchanged just under 12,000 phone calls and text messages before Wade joined the investigation. They also presented cell phone location data showing that Wade frequented the South Atlanta neighborhood where Willis lived at least 35 times in the 11 months before she hired him. Wade had tested that he had been there less than ten times in the same period.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, said the uncontested evidence in court shows the relationship ended long before the grand jury indictment and was ultimately handed down.

That really undermines the argument that this prosecution is selective or somehow strategically manipulated to enrich Fani Willis, Kreis said.

Still, he said, the allegations of a conflict of interest, a narrative Trump has seized on as he campaigned to win back the White House, threatened to spoil public perception of the prosecution.

The defense’s goal was to take everyone’s eyes off the contents of the indictment and focus on Fani Willis’ ethics, Kreis said. They have been very successful, so one has to wonder whether this exercise itself has actually damaged the credibility of the DA’s office enough to create this appearance of impropriety that would be enough to dethrone it.

Kreis said he expected the process to last well into 2025. But such a delay, he said, would likely have happened anyway: Donald Trump cannot be present in multiple criminal cases at the same time.

Judge McAfee handed Trump and his co-defendants a partial victory on Wednesday when he dismissed six charges, including three against the former president in connection with the charge of solicitation of a violation of oath by a government official. McAfee ruled that the counts did not provide sufficient detail about what part of the oath the defendants allegedly tried to get government officials to violate.

The timeline of Trump’s other criminal cases is uncertain.

Trump’s federal trial on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, originally scheduled to begin on March 4, stalled last month when the Supreme Court agreed to consider his claim for total immunity from prosecution for actions taken during his term of office would have taken place.

On Thursday, prosecutors asked for a 30-day extension

the New York hush money case in which Trump paid adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016.

The trial was planned

starts on March 25

. In the meantime

“, the judge presiding over the Florida classified documents case involving files Trump kept at his Mar-a-Lago residence and club, recently postponed the case that had been scheduled for May. Prosecutors have requested a ​starts in July, but Trump’s legal team is pushing to postpone until after the presidential election.


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