Ruling in Fani Willis Disqualification Hearing Expected Within Two Weeks

Ruling in Fani Willis Disqualification Hearing Expected Within Two Weeks

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and several co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case asked a judge Friday to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case.

During a three-hour hearing, defense lawyers argued Willis is guilty of a conflict of interest for benefiting financially from her romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, who she hired as lead prosecutor in the case.

“She received a personal financial benefit of over $9,200 that she can’t account for,” said John Merchant, a lawyer representing co-defendant Michael Roman. “If the court allows this kind of behavior to go on, the entire public confidence in the system will be shot.”

While both Willis and Wade have acknowledged their romantic relationship, a key point of contention is whether it began before Willis hired Wade in November 2021 or after Wade was brought into the Fulton County investigation of Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over the Republican incumbent in Georgia.

Robin Yeartie, a former friend of Willis who worked as an executive assistance to the district attorney, testified last month that the two began dating in 2019 after meeting at a conference.

But on Friday, Adam Abbate, an assistant prosecutor in Willis’ office, told Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee that Yeartie was a disgruntled former employee with an ax to grind against Willis for forcing Yeartie’s resignation from the office.

“She had absolutely no knowledge of the relationship,” Abbate said.

Another point the two sides argued over Friday was the burden of proof the defense carries in the case. While Merchant said the defense only has to show that Willis’ conduct gave the appearance of a conflict of interest, Abbate said Trump’s legal team must demonstrate an actual conflict occured.

The defense also took Willis to task for a speech she gave at a Black church in Atlanta shortly after her relationship with Wade surfaced in a motion lawyer Ashleigh Merchant filed in January.

Willis told the congregation she and Wade were being targeted because they are Black and that God is on her side in the case.

“She chose to pull out the race card and the God card,” said Craig Gillen, a lawyer representing co-defendant and former Georgia Republican Chairman David Shafer.

Trump lawyer Steve Sadow said Willis gave the church speech in an effort to prejudice future jurors who will hear the case against the defendants and their lawyers, a charge Abbate denied.

“There’s absolutely no evidence the defendants’ due process rights have been harmed in any way,” he said.

The two sides also argued over the validity of cellphone records that show almost 2,000 phone calls and 9,800 text messages between Wade and Willis during the first 11 months of 2021. The two have testified their romantic relationship didn’t start until early 2022.

Defense lawyers also cast doubt on Willis’ testimony that she did not receive any financial benefits from her relationship with Wade because she always paid him back in cash for whatever he spent on her.

“Prosecutors don’t act like this. Lawyers don’t act like this,” Gillen said. “They need to go.”

Abbate countered that Willis tended to keep cash around as a safety net, an assertion defense lawyers were unable to contradict. He also poked holes in the cellphone evidence by arguing that data from cellphones does not reliably reveal exact locations.

“It doesn’t prove a relationship,” he said. “It proves they were in communication with each other.”

At the end of the hearing, McAfee said he would issue a ruling within two weeks.

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