Trump can appeal order to keep Fani Willis on election interference case, judge rules

District attorney who brought Georgia indictment against former president allowed to stay on after defence had argued that her romantic relationship with a prosecutor constituted a conflict of interest

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 20 March 2024 18:19 GMT
Trump lawyers expected to appeal decision not to disqualify Fani Willis

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s election interference case in Georgia has issued a certificate of immediate review allowing the former president and eight of his co-defendants to appeal the decision to allow Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis to remain on the state’s criminal case against them.

Superior Court judge Scott McAfee ruled last week that Ms Willis should not be disqualified from pursuing her racketeering case against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his 18 co-defendants after defence lawyers had argued that her romantic relationship with one of the prosecutors on her team, Nathan Wade, constituted a conflict of interest.

He allowed Ms Willis to stay on the case provided Mr Wade stepped down, which he duly did on Friday.

Judge McAfee’s latest order grants the defence their request to lodge an appeal but does not automatically stay the trial court proceedings.

He instead states his intention to address pending pre-trial motions regardless of whether or not any appeal submitted by the defendants against his decision is taken up by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

It is now up to the Court of Appeals to decide whether it will hear their case.

Judge McAfee’s decision on Friday saw him rebuke Ms Willis for what he characterised as a “tremendous” lapse in judgement in appointing Mr Wade and questioned the truthfulness of the former couple’s testimony about the precise timeframe of their relationship.

Mr Wade offered his resignation in a letter to Ms Willis, saying he was doing so “in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public and to move this case forward as quickly as possible”.

”I will always remember — and will remind everyone — that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case engaged in a conspiracy to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election,” she wrote in reply.

His decision allowed Ms Willis to continue to prosecute one of the most sprawling of the four criminal cases against Mr Trump as the 2024 presidential election year cranks into gear.

However, the long-term damage to the public perception of the prosecution arising from the hearings into the proposed disqualification of Ms Willis remains unclear, particularly in light of Mr Trump’s relentless barrage of personal attacks on the pair, who pledged to hold him accountable only to find their own actions under a very public microscope.

The presidential candidate was quick to resume ridiculing the duo, declaring in a post on his Truth Social platform in response to Friday’s news that the “Fani Willis lover” had “resigned in disgrace” and repeated his assertion that the case is part of a calculated effort to hurt his campaign to reclaim the White House in November.

Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to the Georgia indictment.

Attorneys for the Republican and the other defendants involved had said a failure to remove Ms Willis could imperil any convictions and force a re-trial if an appeals court later finds it was warranted.

“Neither the court nor the parties should run an unnecessary risk of having to go through that process more than once,” they wrote.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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