Georgia judge set to hear evidence against DA Fani Willis in Trump case that could disqualify her

The Georgia judge overseeing the sweeping racketeering case against former president Donald Trump is set to hear evidence Thursday related to allegations that district attorney Fani Willis is having an “improper” affair and should be disqualified from the case.

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee will hold an evidentiary hearing on Thursday starting at 9:30 a.m. and into Friday on allegations first brought by co-defendant GOP political operative Michael Roman earlier this year.

The allegations in Roman’s court filings, which have been echoed by three subsequent co-defendants in the case, include that Willis was engaged in an “improper” relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade whom she hired to help prosecute Trump.

Willis has admitted to having a “personal” relationship with Wade but has denied any conflict of interest. She also argued that according to Georgia law, in order for a district attorney to be forcibly removed from a case, the conflict of interest has to be harmful to a defendant’s case.

Judge McAfee said on Monday that depending on his findings after hearing the evidence presented from both sides, Willis could be disqualified from the case.

“In studying the law that’s been filed up to this point, I think it’s clear that disqualification can occur if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one. And the filing submitted on this issue so far have presented a conflict in the evidence that can’t be resolved as a matter of law,” he said.

McAfee was appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2021.

“Specifically looking at defendant Roman’s motion, it alleges a personal relationship that resulted in a financial benefit to the district attorney. And that is no longer a matter of complete speculation. The state has admitted a relationship existed. And so, what remains to be proven is the existence and extent of any financial benefit,” the judge said.

“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,” he said.

Ashleigh Merchant, lawyer for Michael Roman, will take center stage Thursday in presenting what she believes is enough evidence to disqualify Willis and her team.

Terrence Bradley, Wade’s former law partner, will testify first on Thursday. His testimony will determine whether others will be required to testify.

In legal filings last month, Roman alleged that Wade billed Fulton County for 24 hours of work on a single day in November 2021, shortly after being appointed as a special prosecutor, and that Willis financially benefited from her alleged lover’s padded taxpayer-funded salary by taking lavish vacations together on his dime.

According to the court documents, Wade, who has no RICO and felony prosecution experience, billed taxpayers $654,000 since January 2022.

Judge McAfee said Monday that “the particulars” of Wade’s experience will not be relevant in the evidentiary hearing, which will take place on Thursday, Feb. 15, adding, “in my mind as long as a lawyer has a heartbeat and a bar card that lawyer’s appointment standing alone is a matter within the District Attorney’s discretion.”

McAfee said the issues “at point” here are “whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic or non-romantic in nature, when it formed and whether it continues. And that’s only relevant because it’s in combination with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit conveyed as a result of their relationship.”

Willis responded to the allegations in a court filing and admitted to having a “personal” relationship with Wade but denied any conflict of interest. She also argued that, according to Georgia law, in order for a district attorney to be forcibly removed from a case, the conflict of interest has to be harmful to a defendant’s case.

Willis told the Superior Court that while the allegations against her are “salacious,” they have no “merit.”

Willis claims that while she and Wade “have been professional associates and friends since 2019,” there was “no personal relationship” between her and Wade in November 2021 at the time of Wade’s appointment, and that Roman and his lawyers “offer no support for their insistence that the exercise of any prosecutorial discretion (i.e., any charging decision or plea recommendation) in this case was impacted by any personal relationship.”

Willis’ filing said Roman’s motions “attempt to cobble together entirely unremarkable circumstances of Special Prosecutor Wade’s appointment with completely irrelevant allegations about his personal family life into a manufactured conflict of interest on the part of the District Attorney.”

The state has also revealed that DA Willis’ father will be testifying on Thursday, remotely from California.