Georgia appeals court will review decision that allowed Fani Willis to stay on Trump’s Fulton County case

Georgia appeals court will review decision that allowed Fani Willis to stay on Trump’s Fulton County case

Washington — The Georgia Court of Appeals on Wednesday agreed to review a decision by a Fulton County Superior Court judge who declined to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis and her office from the 2020 election case against former President Donald Trump because of a personal relationship Willis had with a prosecutor.

Steve Sadow, Trump’s lawyer in the Fulton County case, said on social media that the court granted Trump’s appeal of Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Willis to continue leading the prosecution. McAfee’s ruling, though, required Nathan Wade, then a special prosecutor who was romantically involved with Willis, to withdraw from the case. Wade resigned in the wake of McAfee’s decision.

The Georgia Court of Appeals issued a brief order granting Trump’s request that it take up his appeal. It’s unclear when arguments will be held.

“President Trump looks forward to presenting interlocutory arguments to the Georgia Court of Appeals as to why the case should be dismissed and Fulton County DA Willis should be disqualified for her misconduct in this unjustified, unwarranted political persecution,” Sadow said in a statement.

The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

The Fulton County case

Trump and more than a dozen of his allies were charged in a sprawling racketeering case brought by Willis last year, which accuses them of engaging in an unlawful scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The former president and the 18 co-defendants charged alongside him all pleaded not guilty. Four later accepted plea deals.

The case was derailed after one of those co-defendants, Michael Roman, accused Willis and Wade in January of having an improper romantic relationship that began before Wade was hired to work on the election case in November 2021. Roman, a longtime GOP operative, claimed that Willis financially benefited from the relationship, since Wade allegedly paid for trips, hotel rooms and travel expenses using money he received through his work as a special prosecutor.

Trump, Roman and seven others sought to have Willis and her office removed from the case and the charges against them dismissed.

Wade and Willis both acknowledged they were romantically involved, but disputed claims that their relationship began before Wade’s hiring. Both took the stand during an evidentiary hearing in February, where Willis forcefully defended herself from allegations of wrongdoing. The two testified that they split the costs associated with their travels, and Willis said she often reimbursed Wade in cash for her share. 

McAfee issued a highly anticipated ruling in March that rejected the effort to have Willis and her office kicked off the case as long as Wade stepped aside, which allowed the prosecution to move forward. But the judge was scathing in his decision and chastised Willis for what he said was a “tremendous lapse in judgement.” 

McAfee said that while he could not conclusively establish when Wade and Willis’ relationship became romantic, “an odor of mendacity remains.” Following his decision, the judge allowed Trump and the eight others to seek review of his ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals. But McAfee said then that he intended to continue addressing unrelated pretrial matters.

The defendants submitted a formal application to appeal McAfee’s decision in March, and the appeals court had 45 days to decide whether to take up the matter. Trump could ask the Georgia Court of Appeals to pause proceedings while it considers the disqualification issue.

The court’s decision to grant Trump’s appeal will likely delay the start of any trial, though no date has been set for it to begin. The case in Fulton County is one of four Trump is facing as he mounts a third bid for the White House. His first criminal trial is currently underway in Manhattan, where local prosecutors charged him with 34 counts of falsifying business records. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Two other cases were brought by special counsel Jack Smith in federal courts in Washington, D.C., and South Florida. The D.C. case involves an alleged effort to subvert the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election, and the Florida case involves Trump’s alleged mishandling of sensitive government records after leaving the White House.

The former president pleaded not guilty to the federal charges he faces, and trials in each of those cases have been indefinitely postponed.  

The developments in Fulton County mean it’s increasingly unlikely that the three outstanding trials will be held before the November presidential election. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is set to face-off against President Biden in a rematch of the 2020 contest.

Jared Eggleston and Nikole Killion contributed to this report

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