The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s election interference case in Georgia said it’s possible that allegations of misconduct against Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis ‘could result in disqualification’ , and that a hearing on the matter would proceed as scheduled on Thursday.
Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee made the remarks during a hearing Monday to determine whether Willis, prosecutor Nathan Wade and others will have to testify Thursday at a hearing the judge had scheduled to hear arguments On the question.
Wills and Wade, along with a number of employees of the prosecutor’s office, were subpoenaed to testify Thursday by Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, who last month filed a motion seeking to dismiss the election charges filed against him and to disqualify Willis on the grounds that she engaged in a “personal and romantic relationship” with Wade, one of her lead prosecutors in the election case, which allegedly resulted in financial gain for both.
A subsequent court filing by Willis admitted the relationship but denied the existence of any financial conflict of interest that would disqualify her from the case. Roman then accused the prosecutor of misrepresenting certain aspects of the relationship in this case, including when it began.
“I think it is clear that disqualification can occur if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict,” Judge McAfee said. “The State has recognized the existence of a relationship. So what remains to be proven is the existence and extent of any financial benefit, again if there was one. And so because I believe it is possible that the facts alleged by the accused could result in disqualification, I believe that an evidentiary hearing should be held to establish the case on these primary allegations.
“I think the questions here are whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic in nature or not, 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 resulting from their relationship,” the judge said.
Willis and Wade had requested that Thursday’s hearing be canceled and their subpoenas quashed. However, after hearing arguments Monday, the judge appeared inclined to allow testimony from at least some witnesses subpoenaed by the defense, potentially including Willis, saying the defense had been able to establish a “good faith basis as to to the relevance” of their testimony.
“I don’t see how a quash can be imposed here,” McAfee said of the subpoenas.
The judge, however, refused to make a final ruling on the matter, saying he would postpone the matter until Thursday’s hearing.
“I don’t see how I can make this decision at the outset without live testimony subject to cross-examination,” Judge McAfee said. “With each of these witnesses, I would defer the decision until we move further into the hearing itself.”
Regarding the prosecutor, the judge said, “We’re not talking about calling Ms. Willis as the first witness, and we have to clear some procedural hurdles before we can do that.”
Arguing for the prosecutor’s office, Fulton County Prosecutor Anna Cross urged the judge to quash the subpoenas. While acknowledging that the state did not interview potential witnesses, Cross said, “What they would say, they would in no way support the wild speculation included in this motion.” »
Cross said any expenses incurred when Wade and Willis traveled together were split equally and did not present a financial conflict as the defense claims.
“This is a serious matter. These are serious charges,” Cross said, later adding, “The defense is gossiping about you…and the court should not tolerate that practice.”
A lawyer for Roman pushed back, telling the judge that the witnesses had information “relevant” to the allegations.
Attorney Ashleigh Merchant said Willis and Wade had the “most relevant” information and that a former business associate of Wade had information that Willis and Wade’s personal relationship “predated” Wade’s hiring for the case, which would contradict the prosecutor’s case.
“He knows personally that this relationship predates Wade’s hiring,” Merchant said of his associate, Terrence Bradley.
Cross responded that she would be “shocked” if Merchant was able to prove it, and that she doesn’t “believe it’s true.”
“The evidence would be that the timeline presented is either wrong…or just fabricated,” Cross said.
In an earlier filing, Willis’ office asked the judge to quash subpoenas against her, Wade, employees of the DA’s office and Wade’s business associate, calling the effort “harassment and disruption.” She also asked the judge to cancel the upcoming evidentiary hearing altogether.
Willis argued that there was “no factual basis” that “could reasonably justify requiring” that she and a number of her employees become witnesses in the case, and accused Roman of “attempting to proceed to a preliminary investigation in a (rather belated) effort to sustain irresponsible accusations.”
“Harassment and disruption of this type should not be tolerated,” the filing says.
Wade also filed a motion to quash a subpoena regarding her bank records, and a former employee of the DA’s office is also seeking to quash a subpoena issued to her.
Trump joined efforts to disqualify Willis and dismiss her charges, accusing the prosecutor of violating her office’s ethical obligations with statements she made at a church following the allegations.
Trump, Roman and 17 others pleaded not guilty in August to all charges as part of a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state from Georgia.
Four defendants in this case later entered into plea deals in exchange for agreeing to testify against other defendants.
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