Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) and special prosecutor Nathan Wade find themselves at the center of a controversy in the 2020 election interference case against former President Trump.
An ex-Trump campaign operative and co-defendant, Michael Roman, claims their alleged romantic relationship makes the indictment “fatally defective.” Roman has requested a Georgia judge to disqualify Willis, Wade, and the district attorney’s office from the case.
Legal experts question impact of allegations on Willis-Wade case
Despite the political uproar, the allegations may not significantly impact the case, as no laws mandate Willis or Wade’s withdrawal.
Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Marymount University law professor, said, “There’s little doubt that this was poor judgment…But I think there is doubt as to whether or not this amounts to disqualification.”
Wade joined the Trump prosecution in 2021 after Willis had considered several other lawyers.
His background includes a private practice focused on family law and contract disputes and serving as a municipal judge.
Criticisms over Wade’s experience and allegations in Willis-Wade relationship
Critics have questioned his experience in complex criminal prosecutions. Roman’s motion alleges that Willis and Wade’s relationship began before the Trump investigation and Wade’s appointment.
He also accuses Willis of benefiting from Wade’s appointment, citing their travels to vacation destinations.
The special prosecutor’s estranged wife has also raised the accusation in their divorce proceedings. Court filings include bank statements allegedly showing flights to San Francisco and Miami in Willis and Wade’s names.
A judge has temporarily paused Willis’s deposition in the divorce case.
Willis and Wade respond to allegations; legal scholars discuss ethics
Neither Willis nor Wade have directly addressed the allegations. Willis defended Wade’s qualifications at an Atlanta church service.
Norman Eisen, special counsel during Trump’s first impeachment, along with Joyce Vance and Richard Painter, legal scholars, suggested Wade’s withdrawal from the case.
They wrote, “Defense attorneys cannot use allegations of prosecutorial ethics violations, real or imaginary, that have nothing to do with a trial to delay or force prosecutors off of a case.”
Levinson noted that personal relationships within the same office don’t typically warrant disqualification unless they involve financial stakes.
Debate over Wade’s pay and political accusations in election case
Eisen, Vance, and Painter argued that Wade’s compensation is standard practice in Georgia, and records show Fulton County has paid Wade over $650,000 since joining the team.
The allegations have fueled political debates, with Trump calling for the case’s dismissal and labeling Willis’s case as “totally compromised.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) accused Willis of using her office to target Trump politically, while House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) demanded Wade turn over related documents.
Bob Ellis of the Fulton County Board of Commissioner’s audit committee has requested information about Wade’s appointment.
Upcoming hearings in election case amid concerns over jury perceptions
A hearing in Wade’s divorce case is scheduled for Jan. 31. Judge Scott McAfee, overseeing the election interference case, ordered Willis to respond to the allegations in writing by Feb. 2, with a hearing on Feb. 15.
Without conclusive evidence, Roman’s motion may be denied, but Levinson warns that the appearance of impropriety could influence a jury’s perception.
“Appearances matter when it comes to the law, and appearances matter when it comes to whether or not a jury thinks that the prosecutors are doing justice,” she stated.