Georgia appeals court agrees to review ruling allowing DA to stay on Trump case

A Georgia appeals court has agreed to review a lower court ruling allowing Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis to continue to prosecute the election interference case she brought against former US president Donald Trump.

Mr Trump and some other defendants in the case had tried to get Ms Willis and her office removed from the case, saying her romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade created a conflict of interest.

Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee in March found that no conflict of interest existed that should force Ms Willis off the case, but he granted a request from Mr Trump and the other defendants to seek an appeal of his ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals.

That intermediate appeals court agreed to take up the case on Wednesday.

Once it rules, the losing side could ask the Georgia Supreme Court to consider an appeal.

Mr Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, Steve Sadow, said in an email that the former president looks forward to presenting arguments to the appeals court as to why the case should be dismissed and why Ms Willis “should be disqualified for her misconduct in this unjustified, unwarranted political persecution”.

A spokesperson for Ms Willis declined to comment on the Court of Appeals decision to take up the matter.

The appeals court’s decision to consider the case seems likely to cause a delay and further reduce the possibility that it will get to trial before the November general election, when Mr Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee for president.

In his order, Judge McAfee said he planned to continue to address other pretrial motions “regardless of whether the petition is granted… and even if any subsequent appeal is expedited by the appellate court”.

But Mr Trump and the others could ask the Court of Appeals to stay the case while the appeal is pending.

Judge McAfee wrote in his order in March that the prosecution was “encumbered by an appearance of impropriety”.

He said Ms Willis could remain on the case only if Mr Wade left, and the special prosecutor submitted his resignation hours later.

The allegations that Ms Willis had improperly benefited from her romance with Mr Wade resulted in a tumultuous couple of months in the case as intimate details of Ms Willis and Mr Wade’s personal lives were aired in court in mid-February.

The serious charges in one of four criminal cases against the Republican former president were largely overshadowed by the love lives of the prosecutors.

Mr Trump and 18 others were indicted in August, accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally try to overturn his narrow 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia.

All of the defendants were charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations, or Rico, law, an expansive anti-racketeering statute.

Four people charged in the case have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors.

Mr Trump and the others have pleaded not guilty.

Mr Trump and other defendants had argued in their appeal application that Judge McAfee was wrong not to remove both Ms Willis and Mr Wade, writing that “providing DA Willis with the option to simply remove Wade confounds logic and is contrary to Georgia law”.

The allegations against Ms Willis first surfaced in a motion filed in early January by Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer for former Trump campaign staffer and onetime White House aide Michael Roman.

The motion alleged that Ms Willis and Mr Wade were involved in an inappropriate romantic relationship and that Ms Willis paid Mr Wade large sums for his work and then benefitted when he paid for lavish vacations.

Ms Willis and Mr Wade acknowledged the relationship but said they didn’t begin dating until the spring of 2022, after Mr Wade was hired in November 2021, and their romance ended last summer.

They also said that they split travel costs roughly evenly, with Ms Willis often paying expenses or reimbursing Mr Wade in cash.


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