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Fulton County DA Fani Willis must step aside or remove special prosecutor in Trump case, judge says

Fani Willis
Posted at 7:30 AM, Mar 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-15 13:46:58-04

ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis must step aside from the Georgia election interference case against Donald Trump or remove the special prosecutor with whom she had a romantic relationship before the case can proceed, the judge overseeing it ruled Friday.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he did not conclude that Willis' relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade amounted to a conflict of interest. However, he said, it created an “appearance of impropriety” that infected the prosecution team.

“As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the District Attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed," the judge wrote.

"Put differently, an outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences. As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist.”

Willis and Wade testified at a hearing last month that they had engaged in a romantic relationship, but they rejected the idea that Willis improperly benefited from it, as lawyers for Trump and some of his co-defendants alleged.

McAfee wrote that there was insufficient evidence that Willis had a personal stake in the prosecution, but he said his finding “is by no means an indication that the Court condones this tremendous lapse in judgement or the unprofessional manner of the District Attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing.”

The judge said he believes that “Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices -- even repeatedly -- and it is the trial court’s duty to confine itself to the relevant issues and applicable law properly brought before it.”

An attorney for co-defendant Michael Roman asked McAfee to dismiss the indictment and prevent Willis and Wade and their offices from continuing to prosecute the case. The attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, alleged that Willis paid Wade large sums for his work and then improperly benefited from the prosecution of the case when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations for the two of them.

Willis had insisted that the relationship created no financial or personal conflict of interest that justified removing her office from the case. She and Wade both testified that their relationship began in the spring of 2022 and ended in the summer of 2023. They both said that Willis either paid for things herself or used cash to reimburse Wade for travel expenses.

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