Here’s What To Watch As A Judge Weighs Allegations Against Fani Willis

Photo illustration of Georgia DA Fani Willis.
Photo illustration of Georgia DA Fani Willis.

A hearing will begin Thursday to consider whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified over alleged financial benefits she gained from appointing her romantic partner Nathan Wade to work on the case against former President Donald Trump.

Willis admitted in a filing earlier this month that a relationship existed, though she denied it provided her with financial benefit. Judge Scott McAfee said during a Monday hearing that it’s “possible” the facts alleged by Trump co-defendant Michael Roman could result in disqualification if “the existence and extent of any financial benefit” Willis gained from appointing Wade is clearly established.

Roman alleged in his Jan. 8 motion seeking Willis’ disqualification and the case’s dismissal that she awarded a lucrative contract to Wade, which she benefited from when he took her on vacations using money earned from his position. Wade has earned close to $654,000 from the county since 2022, according to county data.

Since Roman’s initial filing, multiple other defendants — including Trump — have joined the motion. Trump and his 18 co-defendants were indicted in August on charges stemming from alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“The key is going to be for [the parties] to highlight and underscore the personal financial gain that they have claimed exists in this case,” Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney and legal analyst Philip Holloway told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “If they can make that point very strongly, I think they’ve got a good chance of, at a minimum, having Fani Willis and her team rescued from the case.”

Bank statements revealed that Wade purchased tickets in Willis’ name to Miami and San Francisco and made payments to a cruise line made on the same day as the Miami ticket purchase. Willis did not disclose this ticket or any other gifts from Wade on her financial disclosure form.

Roman’s most recent court filing included two additional trips: a December 2022 Bahamas cruise and a March 2023 trip to Belize. Ashleigh Merchant, Roman’s attorney, claimed the total amount of gifts offered by Wade totaled thousands of dollars.

Wade said in his affidavit that expenses for travel were split roughly equally between himself and Willis. The state’s response to Willis’ motion includes a receipt for one flight Willis purchased for Wade, though it did not include any other indication of expenses Willis paid or reimbursements she may have made to Wade.

McAfee indicated Monday he would not be interested in some of the other issues raised by Roman, like the question of Wade’s qualification for his position, noting appointments are within the district attorney’s discretion as long as the lawyer “has a heartbeat and a bar card.”

Roman raised the stakes last week with a filing accusing Wade and Willis of falsely representing their relationship to the court.

Merchant said that Terrence Bradley — Wade’s former business partner and attorney for part of his divorce case — would contradict claims Wade made in his affidavit that their relationship did not start until after his contract began.

Likewise, she noted during the Monday hearing that even Wade’s admission of a relationship in the affidavit contradictedhis prior sworn statement in his divorce case. In the case, Wade filed a May 2023 sworn statement affirming he never entertained or had relations with a member of the opposite sex other than his spouse.

Trump co-defendant David Shafer included these two statements in a motion, noting that under the State Bar of Georgia’s Rule 3.3 a lawyer “must not allow the tribunal to be misled by false statements of law or fact or evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.”

Holloway suggested this may lead to Wade pleading the Fifth Amendment at the hearing.

McAfee signaled Monday that Bradley would be the first witness called. He said he would wait until afterwards to decide whether other witnesses must testify.

Along with Willis, Wade and others like Bradley, Merchant subpoenaed seven district attorney’s office staff members including Daysha Young, Sonya Allen and Dexter Bond. Willis sought to quash the subpoenas for herself and her staff.

Special prosecutor Anna Cross noted during the Monday hearing that Willis’ father, John C. Floyd III, would testify remotely on Willis’ behalf.

While McAfee may offer some “clues” about his thinking during the hearing, Holloway told the DCNF it is “very unlikely” he will rule from the bench.

“This is the kind of thing that’s going to probably require some thought,” Holloway said. “He’s certainly going to want to put it in writing.”

Katelynn Richardson on February 14, 2024

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