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Judge: Fani Willis can stay on Trump case if Nathan Wade leaves

PoliticsJudge: Fani Willis can stay on Trump case if Nathan Wade leaves

An Atlanta-area judge on Friday said Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can remain on the case against former President Donald Trump so long as her ex-boyfriend, special prosecutor Nathan Wade, withdraws from the case.

Judge Scott McAfee presented the choice to Ms. Willis in a highly anticipated ruling on claims she should be disqualified because she enjoyed lavish trips and meals with Mr. Wade, who was hired in November 2021 for the taxpayer-funded job.

“The court finds the allegations and evidence legally insufficient to support a finding of an actual conflict of interest,” the judge wrote. “However, the appearance of impropriety remains and must be handled as previously outlined before the prosecution can proceed.”

Ms. Willis‘s relationship with Mr. Wade was an unexpected ripple in the case that shifted the spotlight from Mr. Trump‘s legal jeopardy to her personal life. The issue turned into a mini-trial of Ms. Willis and forced the couple, who said they split in mid-2023, to disclose intimate details of their relationship in a multi-day evidentiary hearing.

After two weeks of consideration and drafting his ruling, the judge took a Solomonic route to the problem and shifted the decision-making onto Ms. Willis.

He said Ms. Willis could choose to step aside alongside her office, forcing the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council to reassign the case.

SEE ALSO: Trump will keep fighting Georgia case after Willis-Wade decision, lawyer says

Alternatively, Mr. Wade “can withdraw, allowing the District Attorney, the Defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case.”

Judge McAfee said there were “reasonable questions” about whether the prosecutorial pair testified truthfully about the timing of their relationship. The pair said they began dating after Mr. Wade was hired, but witnesses disputed that.

The judge said tossing the charges outright would not be appropriate.

“Ultimately, dismissal of the indictment is not the appropriate remedy to adequately dissipate the financial cloud of impropriety and potential untruthfulness found here,” he wrote.

The judge also chided Ms. Willis for suggesting criticism of Mr. Wade was racially motivated in a church speech to a majority-Black congregation around Martin Luther King Day.

“The court cannot find that this speech crossed the line to the point where the Defendants have been denied the opportunity for a fundamentally fair trial, or that it requires the district attorney’s disqualification,” he wrote.

“But it was still legally improper. Providing this type of public comment creates dangerous waters for the district attorney to wade further into.”

Ms. Willis began investigating Mr. Trump three years ago, based on his efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to dig up enough votes to overturn President Biden’s 2020 electoral victory in the state. A grand jury last year indicted Mr. Trump and his associates.

However, co-defendant Michael Roman filed a bombshell motion saying Ms. Willis had a romantic relationship with Mr. Wade, giving the pair an impermissible financial incentive to pursue the prosecution.

Mr. Trump‘s attorney, Steve Sadow, said he respected Friday’s decision, though disagreed with it.

“We believe that the Court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits, testifying untruthfully about when their personal relationship began, as well as Willis‘ extrajudicial MLK ‘church speech,’ where she played the race card and falsely accused the defendants and their counsel of racism,” Mr. Sadow said. We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place.”

In his ruling, Judge McAfee enumerated the trips Ms. Willis took with Mr. Wade, and how the DA said she reimbursed her boyfriend in cash.

The judge said the arrangement was “unusual” and it was concerning there was no corroborating evidence of the transactions, though it did not merit disqualification.

Judge McAfee also noted that Ms. Willis offered Mr. Wade‘s position to someone else first — former Gov. Roy Barnes — and Mr. Wade‘s rate of $250 per hour was relatively low by metro Atlanta standards for an attorney with Mr. Wade‘s experience.

Judge McAfee did hand Mr. Trump a win earlier in the week by dismissing three of the criminal counts against him, saying prosecutors weren’t specific enough in detailing the charges.

Mr. Trump faces 10 counts, including a violation of Georgia racketeering laws and several counts related to alleged conspiracies to commit forgery, make false statements and writings or make false filings.

His co-defendants face an assortment of charges that at times overlap with those against Mr. Trump.

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