Every day seems to bring new revelations in the corruption case involving Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Fani Willis. Willis thought she could make a name for herself by taking on former president Donald Trump, but the more we learn about the alleged corruption and conflicts of interest that have plagued her investigation of Trump, the more infamy she has brought herself.
Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for this week, but a clip from a Zoom call that he participated in reveals his mindset as the court prepares for the hearing.
“I’m specifically looking at the defendant [Michael] Roman’s motion that alleges a personal relationship that resulted in a financial benefit to the district attorney,” the clip begins. “That is no longer a matter of complete speculation. The state has admitted a relationship existed.”
Indeed, a relationship did exist between Willis and Nathan Wade, an attorney she hired as a special counsel for the Trump case, despite Wade’s lack of experience with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) cases. More salacious accusations have emerged, including a longer relationship than the two initially admitted to and questions of whether the pair cohabitated.
“And so what remains to be proven is the existence and extent of any financial benefit, again, if there was — if there even was one,” McAfee continued. “So, because I think it’s possible that the facts alleged by the defendant could result in disqualification, I think an evidentiary hearing must occur to establish the record on those core allegations. So just to emphasize I think the issues that point here are whether a relationship existed.”
Although McAfee maintained an even tone as he spoke, the word “disqualification” snapped some of the participants in the meeting to attention. McAfee has made it clear that the evidence that comes out of the hearing could be bad news for Willis.
“There are two main grounds for disqualifying a prosecutor from a case, according to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia: ‘forensic misconduct’ or a conflict of interest,” explains WSB Radio. “In 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court said a conflict exists when ‘the prosecutor has acquired a personal interest or stake in the defendant’s conviction.’ It added that an ‘actual conflict’ must be involved, not just a ‘theoretical or speculative conflict.’”
This is why the evidentiary hearing is so important. The court needs to get to the bottom of these allegations and determine how much truth lies within them, but there’s also a chance that Willis’ self-indulgent speech from the pulpit of a historic Atlanta church could contribute to her disqualification.
“Several codefendants have also highlighted Willis’ recent remarks at Big Bethel AME church as a reason why she should be disqualified from the case,” WSB reports. “They said the DA’s comments that her critics were playing the ‘race card’ could prejudice a jury.”
This isn’t the first time this case has brought unwanted attention to Willis. Judge Robert McBurney barred Willis from questioning now-Lt. Gov. Burt Jones (R-Ga.) in the Trump grand jury investigation in 2022 because Willis actively campaigned for Jones’ Democrat rival for the office. The House Judiciary Committee has also repeatedly requested information from Willis about the political nature of the investigation.
Willis is naturally pushing back. Her office wrote in a court filing in response to McAfee’s call for a hearing, “This is not an example of zealous advocacy, nor is it a good faith effort to develop a record on a disputed legal issue — it is a ticket to the circus.”
Disqualifying Willis could mean that the Trump case continues with a different prosecutor, but other ripples may affect the metro Atlanta legal community.
“Noah Pines, a defense attorney closely tracking the case, has been struck by how increasingly personal court filings have become between the lawyers,” reports WSB. “Atlanta’s legal community is small and prosecutors and defense attorneys generally ‘get along,’ he said.”
“This case is personal,” Pines told WSB. “This case will, in my opinion, impact the relationship of these lawyers forever. And that’s kind of disheartening.”
All eyes will be on Fulton County as the hearing is underway on Thursday. Stay tuned to see if Willis faces any consequences or emerges unscathed.