Updated Mar 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's Georgia case can continue if Willis or special prosecutor leave: judge

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Alex Slitz / pool / AFP via Getty Images

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office can remain on Georgia's 2020 election interference case against former President Trump if the special prosecutor Willis hired steps aside, a judge ruled on Friday.

Why it matters: The ruling allows the case to conditionally go forward and is a win for Willis, who defense lawyers accused of improperly benefiting from her romantic relationship with the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade.

  • Judge Scott McAfee said he found the "appearance of impropriety" but ruled that the relationship brought no actual conflict of interest and denied the defendants' claims and requests.
  • However, he stipulated that the relationship requires either Willis or Wade to leave the case.
  • Willis strongly denied claims that her relationship with Wade tainted proceedings or created any financial or ethical conflict of interest in the case.

What they're saying: In his ruling, McAfee said his decision should not indicate that the court supports Willis' "tremendous lapse in judgment" or what he called her "unprofessional manner" during tense testimony at an evidentiary hearing last month.

  • "Rather, it is the undersigned's opinion that Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices – even repeatedly," the ruling reads.

Trump lawyer Steve Sadow said in a statement that McAfee's ruling "did not afford appropriate significance" to what the court heard about Willis and Wade's relationship and their conduct.

  • "We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place," Sadow stated.

Between the lines: If Willis and her office leaves, the case would likely be halted for months as the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia finds a substitute attorney to take up the case.

  • Doing so would be a difficult, arduous process, since only a few district attorneys in the state have the resources to take on such a high-profile case.
  • Once appointed, the substitute district attorney could choose to maintain the case as is, drop certain charges or dismiss the case entirely.
  • If Wade leaves, Willis would have to appoint or hire another lead prosecutor.

Zoom in: If Willis left, she would also be doing so during an election year as she faces multiple challengers.

  • The Democratic primary for the race is scheduled for May.

The big picture: The allegations against Willis and Wade don't change the current facts of the case she brought against Trump. He faces more than half a dozen counts in the Georgia case related to his alleged efforts to subvert 2020 election results.

  • McAfee earlier this week quashed several counts Trump originally faced for a lack of supporting detail, but noted in his order that prosecutors could refile them.
  • Willis charged a total of 19 co-defendants including Trump. Three have accepted plea deals.

Go deeper: How the Fani Willis allegations could affect Trump's Georgia election case

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information from the order and a statement from Sadow.

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