Trump asks appeals court to review ruling allowing Fani Willis to remain in Georgia election case

ATLANTA –

Former US President Donald Trump and eight others accused of attempting to illegally interfere in the 2020 election in Georgia filed a formal request on Friday to appeal a judge’s ruling allowing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to stay on the case.

Trump and other defendants had tried to get Willis and his office to dismiss the case, saying her romantic relationship with special counsel Nathan Wade created a conflict of interest. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee earlier this month determined there was no conflict of interest that should force Willis to drop the case, but said the prosecution was “obstructed by an appearance of wrongdoing.”

McAfee’s ruling said Willis could continue his prosecution if Wade dropped the case, and the special prosecutor resigned hours later. Lawyers for Trump and other defendants then asked McAfee to allow them to appeal his ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals, and he granted that request.

Filing an application with the appeals court is the next step in that process. The Court of Appeals has 45 days to decide whether to take up the matter.

Allegations that Willis had improperly benefited from her affair with Wade disrupted the case for weeks. Intimate details of Willis and Wade’s personal lives were aired in court in mid-February, overshadowing serious allegations in one of four criminal cases against the former Republican president. Trump and 18 others were charged in August with participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally try to overturn his narrow 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia.

The appeal request says McAfee erred in not disqualifying both Willis and Wade from the case, saying that “providing Prosecutor Willis the option to simply remove Wade confuses logic and is contrary to Georgia law.”

Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead attorney in the case, said in a statement that the case should have been dismissed and “at a minimum” Willis should have been disqualified from continuing to prosecute him. He said the Court of Appeal should grant the application and consider the merits of the appeal.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case. (Alex Slitz/AP Photo)

A spokesman for Willis declined to comment.

Willis used the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, an expansive anti-racketeering statute, to charge Trump and the 18 others. Four people charged in the case pleaded guilty after reach agreements with prosecutors. Trump and the others have pleaded not guilty.

McAfee clearly found that Willis’s relationship with Wade and his employment as lead prosecutor on the case created an appearance of impropriety, and his failure to disqualify Willis and his entire office from the case “is a simple legal error requiring reversal.” , defense attorneys wrote. in your application.

Given the complexity of the case and the number of defendants, the request says, multiple trials will likely be necessary. Failing to disqualify Willis now could require any verdict to be overturned, and it would be “neither prudent nor efficient” to risk having to go through “this painful, divisive and costly process” multiple times, she says.

In his ruling, McAfee cited a lack of appellate guidance on the issue of disqualifying a prosecutor for forensic misconduct, and the appeals court should intervene to establish such a precedent, the lawyers argue.

Finally, defense attorneys argued, it is crucial that prosecutors “remain and appear disinterested and impartial” to maintain public faith in the integrity of the justice system.

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