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Trump Seeks Appeals Court Review of Decision Allowing Fani Willis to Stay on Georgia Election Case

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Trump Seeks Appeals Court Review of Decision Allowing Fani Willis to Stay on Georgia Election Case

Former President Donald Trump, along with eight other defendants, filed a formal application on Friday to appeal a judge’s decision permitting Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to continue overseeing the 2020 election case in Georgia. Trump and the other defendants had sought to remove Willis and her office from the case, citing a potential conflict of interest due to her romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. However, Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled earlier this month that there was no conflict of interest necessitating Willis’s removal from the case. Nonetheless, the judge acknowledged that the prosecution was “burdened by an appearance of impropriety.”

Following McAfee’s ruling, which stated that Willis could proceed with the prosecution if Wade withdrew from the case, the special prosecutor resigned shortly afterward. Subsequently, lawyers representing Trump and the other defendants requested permission from McAfee to appeal his decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which he granted. The submission of an application to the appeals court marks the subsequent phase of this process. The Court of Appeals now has 45 days to determine whether it will consider the case.

The accusations suggesting that Willis had inappropriately benefited from her relationship with Wade disrupted the case for several weeks. Intimate details of their personal relationship were publicly discussed in court in mid-February, overshadowing the significant allegations in one of the four criminal cases against the Republican former president. Trump and 18 other individuals were indicted in August on charges of participating in a broad scheme to unlawfully overturn his narrow 2020 presidential election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia. The application for appeal argues that McAfee erred in not disqualifying both Willis and Wade from the case, stating that “allowing DA Willis the option to simply remove Wade defies logic and contradicts Georgia law.”

Steve Sadow, Trump’s chief attorney in the case, stated that the case should have been dismissed and, at the very least, Willis should have been disqualified from further prosecuting it. He urged the Court of Appeals to approve the application and assess the merits of the appeal. Willis utilized Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, a comprehensive anti-racketeering statute, to charge Trump and the other 18 defendants. Four individuals implicated in the case have entered guilty pleas after striking agreements with prosecutors, while Trump and the remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty.

McAfee clearly determined that Willis’ relationship with Wade, coupled with his role as the lead prosecutor in the case, created an appearance of impropriety. “His refusal to disqualify Willis and her entire office from the case constitutes a clear legal error that warrants reversal,” the defense attorneys stated in their application. The application notes the case’s complexity and the numerous defendants involved, suggesting that multiple trials may be necessary. Failing to disqualify Willis at this stage could potentially invalidate any verdicts reached, making it “neither prudent nor efficient” to risk undergoing “this arduous, divisive, and costly process” repeatedly, the application asserts.

McAfee’s ruling highlighted a deficiency in appellate guidance regarding the disqualification of a prosecutor due to forensic misconduct, prompting the lawyers to urge the appeals court to intervene and set a precedent in this regard. Additionally, the defense attorneys emphasized the importance of prosecutors maintaining both actual and perceived impartiality to preserve public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system.

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