Although the judge made it clear he had not decided whether the allegations were substantiated, his decision was a blow to prosecutors who had hoped he would throw out the entire case. Anna Cross, a Willis deputy who has handled key proceedings in state and federal courts, said the allegations against Willis amounted to “gossip” intended to cause a “spectacle” that had no legal basis. Even if the allegations of financial irregularities were proven, Cross said, they would have no bearing on criminal charges against Trump and his co-defendants related to their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.
“This is a serious matter, these are serious accusations. Your Honor ran a serious courtroom,” Cross said, adding, “The defense brings you gossip.”
The judge was not immediately convinced, however, and indicated that the allegations could result in disqualification, especially if prosecutors lied about the start of the relationship.
McAfee’s decision keeps the spotlight, for at least a few more days, on the personal life of the Atlanta-area prosecutor, whose national profile has exploded amid her investigation and prosecution of the former president. Willis suggested in public comments that the focus on his relationship with Wade was racist.
Defense attorneys denied the accusation and argued that Willis’ extrajudicial remarks in response to the allegations were inappropriate “extrajudicial” statements.
This remarkable procedure stems from a case filed on January 8 by former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, one of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in this vast racketeering case. Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, claimed Willis and Wade had been in a romantic relationship for several years and benefited financially from their decisions in the case. She also claimed that their romance began before Wade joined Willis’ team.
Willis and Wade acknowledged in court documents this month that they formed a “personal relationship” in addition to their professional and friendly relationship. But they rejected claims that the nature of their relationship had any influence on the affair. They said they did not violate any ethics rules and denied being unduly enriched by their work on the case. They also said Wade joined Willis’ team before the relationship became romantic.
Shortly after Merchant’s allegations, McAfee scheduled a hearing for February 15 to hear the evidence. Merchant seeks to force Willis and Wade to testify at this hearing.
Although McAfee rejected the state’s attempt to cancel the hearing, he agreed that he would not force Willis, Wade or others in his office to testify before hearing from the witnesses called by Merchant . Merchant said these witnesses would help support his allegations against them.
Cross called efforts to subpoena prosecutors an “abuse of the subpoena power.”
McAfee said he would not allow redundant or gratuitous evidence and would try to focus Thursday’s hearing on the specific allegations of a financial conflict.
Cross said the state would present voluminous evidence contradicting the allegations against Willis and Wade and that she would be “shocked” if the defense team could substantiate some of the allegations about their relationship.
“There is simply no way to make that assertion in good faith given the record currently before the court,” Cross said.
Merchant, however, said she would be able to show that Wade and Willis’ relationship became romantic before implicating her in the Trump affair in November 2021. If she could show that, it would mean that Willis and Wade lied to the judge when they said in court documents last week that they wouldn’t become romantically involved until 2022.
Cross said the prosecutor’s office plans to call Willis’ father, John Floyd, as a witness at Thursday’s hearing. Cross said Floyd would testify about Willis’ living conditions to counter allegations that Willis and Wade were “cohabiting” during the Trump investigation.
The hearing also confirmed that Wade refused to accept service of a subpoena issued by Merchant.
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