07/21/2024

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Donald Trump does a hand motion in the main image; Fani Willis looks confused inset on the right

‘Not supported by actual evidence’: Trump prosecutors push to shutdown removal of DA Fani Willis in now-halted Georgia RICO case

Main image: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks after voting in the Florida primary election in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee); Inset right: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz, Pool).

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is asking a court to dismiss an appeal filed by former President Donald Trump in the now-halted Georgia racketeering (RICO) and election subversion case over conflict of interest allegations involving Fani Willis, the chief prosecutor overseeing the case.

The Fulton Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney Donald Wakeford argued in a motion filed on Wednesday night in the Court of Appeals of the State of Georgia that the appeal should never have been allowed to proceed “due to the lack of sufficient evidence, based upon the explicit factual findings of the trial court.”

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    Trump and eight other defendants in the case asserted that Willis had a conflict of interest in the prosecution, and a “personal stake in the prosecution of this case by financially benefiting from her romantic relationship with Special Assistant District Attorney (“SADA”) Nathan Wade, whom she personally hired to lead the State’s prosecution team.”

    Wakeford shot back in his motion opposing the appeal.

    “The problem with Appellants’ theory, as detailed by the trial court in its order, is that it was not supported by the actual evidence they provided,” he wrote. “As both this Court and the Supreme Court have repeatedly held, Georgia appellate courts will not disturb a trial court’s factual findings on disputed issues outside of certain, very rare, circumstances. When a trial court makes determinations concerning matters of credibility or evidentiary weight, reviewing courts will not disturb those determinations unless they are flatly incorrect.”

    Wakeford also argued that Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee had already decided that Willis did not benefit financially from the case.

    “The State respectfully submits that, with such due deference afforded to the trial court’s factual findings, there exists no basis for reversal of the order at issue,” he wrote. “This is particularly true given the substantial leeway the trial court afforded Appellants in gathering and submitting evidence to support their various theories and arguments. In the trial court’s own words, Appellants ‘were provided an opportunity to subpoena and introduce whatever relevant and material evidence they could muster’ to make their case.’

    “The trial court’s careful and extensive evaluation of the resulting record, and its utter dismissal of the central evidence proffered by the Appellants, forecloses any possibility of reversal,” he added.

    As Law&Crime reported on June 5, the Georgia Court of Appeals paused the case against Trump and others over issues related to the ongoing disqualification efforts aimed at Willis.

    In a terse, one-page ruling last week, the Peach State’s second-highest court said proceedings in the long-delayed lower court case are now “hereby stayed pending the outcome of these appeals.”

    The appellate court cited precedent from an unpublished order in an overruled 2004 Georgia Supreme Court case that stands for the proposition of “staying underlying proceedings in a criminal case after granting interlocutory review.” The appeals court noted, however, that the case in question was overturned “on other grounds.”

    The decision to delay is a decided loss for Willis, who lobbied hard against the appellate court’s intervention in the first place. The move likely means the long-delayed trial process is unlikely to play out any time in 2024 or the near future.

    As the appellate court considers the issues, both the defense and the state are getting the opportunity to file motions, briefs, and reply briefs.

    There is also the potential for oral argument before the court — which ultimately will take some time to deliberate the outcome.

    In the event Willis remains on the case, the defense would almost certainly would next appeal the decision not to disqualify to the Georgia Supreme Court. If Willis were removed, the state would be in an awkward position of whether to move forward with another prosecutor or file an appeal to keep the district attorney on the case. But in either event, the process would likely take years instead of months.

    The motion that brought the once-secretive, then eventually admitted, affair between Willis and Wade into the light of day was filed by attorney Ashleigh Merchant on behalf of Michael Roman, a senior staff member for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

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    Prosecutors claim Roman played a relevant — and criminal — role in the fake or “contingent” electors scheme. Once those allegations were lodged in court, they slowly but surely blew up the timeline Willis and her lieutenants had for quick justice.

    On March 15, Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee partially granted the defense motion to disqualify but gave the prosecution the choice of which prosecutor had to go — Wade or Willis.

    Law& Crime’s Colin Kalmbacher contributed to this report.

    The post ‘Not supported by actual evidence’: Trump prosecutors push to shutdown removal of DA Fani Willis in now-halted Georgia RICO case first appeared on Law & Crime.