Georgia Judge To Hear New Evidence, Final Statements In Fani Willis Disqualification Case

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Mar 01, 2024 - 05:25 PM

Authored by Catherine Yang via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Witness testimony has concluded, but attorneys still have much to argue in the motion to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from prosecuting the high profile racketeering case against former President Donald Trump and 14 alleged co-conspirators for challenging the 2020 elections.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, on Feb. 15, 2024. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool via Getty Images)

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee scheduled an afternoon hearing where evidence concerning prosecutors’ cell phone records and whether the district attorney’s prejudicial behavior warrants disqualification will be argued.

On Jan. 8, Ashleigh Merchant, legal counsel for defendant Michael Roman, filed a motion to disqualify—exposing a romantic relationship Ms. Willis had with Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor she appointed to lead the election case. Ms. Merchant alleged that Ms. Willis hired him after beginning a personal relationship and then benefitted financially from the appointment as he took her on several “lavish” vacations.

This led to half the defendants joining the motion to disqualify, adding to it new arguments and evidence.

Judge McAfee held an evidentiary hearing on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 and later continued it on Feb. 27 to hear from Atlanta-area Attorney Terrence Bradley, billed as Ms. Merchant’s “star witness.”

The March 1 hearing will not include witness testimony, but attorneys were instructed to bring case law and legal arguments for the remaining issues.

Relationship Timeline and Cell Phone Records

In ordering the evidentiary hearing, Judge McAfee said it was “clear” that disqualification could occur if a conflict of interest is shown.

“The state has admitted a relationship existed, and so what remains to be proven is the existence and extent of any financial benefit—again, if there even was one,” he said.

During contentious testimonies on Feb. 15, Ms. Willis accused Ms. Merchant of lying about her and digging into personal matters. The parties have presented conflicting timelines of the relationship, which could weigh in the judge’s determination of whether there was a conflict of interest and the credibility of the prosecutors.

The relationship was previously unknown to counsel and even Ms. Willis’s staff. Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade both testified they had not kept it a secret, saying that they did not announce their relationship because they are both private people.

Ms. Merchant alleged, based on what appeared to be long conversations with a former associate of Mr. Wade, that the relationship between Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade began before he was hired by the district attorney, and the lavish spending came after the appointment on the high-profile election case.

Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade both testified this was not the case. They said the romantic relationship began in early 2022 and ended in the summer of 2023, right before the Trump indictment.

Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade also both testified that they were close friends prior to beginning a romantic relationship in early 2022, but the trips only occurred during the period of their romantic relationship. They also both maintained that Ms. Willis paid her half of the expenses, giving Mr. Wade large sums of cash around four times.

Evidence is scarce on both sides. Pressed by defense attorneys for a record of these reimbursements, both Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade said there was none. And, as it appeared few people knew about the relationship, witness testimony produced little to allow Ms. Merchant to show that the relationship might have begun earlier than Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade say it did.

Ms. Merchant had two witnesses she intended to give testimony on the relationship timeline.

One was Robin Yeartie, a former friend of Ms. Willis. They met in college and, after reconnecting years later, maintained a friendship until Ms. Yeartie resigned from the district attorney’s office a few years ago. Ms. Yeartie had a lease on a condo she vacated and sublet to Ms. Willis in 2021.

Ms. Yeartie testified that Ms. Willis told her she met Mr. Wade in 2019 at a judicial conference. She said she had “no doubt” that a romantic relationship between the two started “shortly” after, as she saw them together “hugging, kissing” and otherwise showing affection.

Mr. Wade testified that he never spoke to Ms. Yeartie about the relationship. Ms. Willis said it was a “lie” that she began a relationship with Mr. Wade shortly after meeting him in 2019.

The second witness was Terrence Bradley, a former law partner of Mr. Wade, who also represented him during parts of Mr. Wade’s divorce proceedings. On Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, Mr. Bradley took the stand but declined to answer questions saying it would violate attorney-client privilege.

On the first day, he seemed to imply that he had never contacted Ms. Merchant, that it was she who had reached out to him through a third party, and that he had not shared details about the Wade-Willis relationship.

On Feb. 27, Ms. Merchant read aloud several texts exchanged between Ms. Merchant and Mr. Bradley, revealing discussions about various trips taken and rendezvous between Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis, as well as Mr. Bradley claiming that the relationship started shortly after they met in 2019.

However, Mr. Bradley testified that he had been “speculating,” that he had “no personal knowledge” about the relationship, and that everything he did know would have come from conversations with Mr. Wade. He added that there was only one conversation he had with Mr. Wade that concerned Ms. Willis, but later seemed to backtrack under questioning.

The texts indicated that Mr. Bradley’s speculation came in direct response to Ms. Merchant asking him to confirm allegations about the relationship as she was preparing to file her motion to disqualify, leading other defense attorneys to ask whether Mr. Bradley intentionally lied to Ms. Merchant in an effort to mislead her.

After three sessions on the witness stand, defense attorneys were able to pull few answers from Mr. Bradley.

Prior to his last testimony, however, Trump attorneys filed an affidavit from a private investigator who revealed that cell phone records for Mr. Wade indicate he likely spent two nights at Ms. Willis’s condo in 2021—before they claim the relationship began. He also said he found they had 2,000 calls and exchanged 12,000 text messages in 2021.

Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis did not dispute communicating in 2019, 2020, and 2021, and both said they were close friends in 2021 and communicated frequently. Ms. Willis had testified that Mr. Wade never spent the night and in a court filing, argued that the phone records only show he was in the vicinity based on the pinging off the cell towers.

Defense attorneys are expected to argue that the prosecutors may not have been truthful throughout the process, while the state has argued that the private investigator’s findings should not be entered into evidence.

Several defendants have also argued that the district attorney engaged in prejudicial behavior, but the judge has not given any indication that this will factor into his decision on the motion.

The ruling may depend on whether Judge McAfee determines an appearance of impropriety is enough to warrant disqualification, as he mentioned in a previous hearing, or whether defendants have to show proof of conflict of interest, as the state argued.