Fani Willis tells appeals court to keep her on Trump RICO case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Monday called for an appeals court to refuse to consider former President Donald Trump‘s appeal of his trial judge’s decision not to disqualify her from the case, according to filing Monday afternoon.

Willis, who is prosecuting Trump and 13 remaining co-defendants in a sweeping Georgia racketeering case alleging they conspired to overturn the 2020 election, argued in a court filing that there is no further review needed after Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee did not remove her from the case.

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 district attorney argued the trial court already held an evidentiary hearing which “spanned several days” and ultimately failed to establish “any actual conflict of interest and declined to dismiss the indictment.”

“The trial court also permitted the prosecution to proceed under the direction of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office upon the withdrawal of Special Assistant District Attorney Nathan Wade,” attorneys from Willis’s office wrote, referring to McAfee’s ultimatum that either Willis or Wade had to step aside after it became apparent that the pair engaged in a romantic relationship.

Last month, McAfee granted Trump’s legal team permission to bring the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The former president’s lawyers argued to the appeals court that the evidence brought up during the previous trial court hearing revealed Willis and Wade’s relationship did create an “appearance of impropriety in this case that cast a pall over these entire proceedings” and that the decision to allow Willis to continue “is plain legal error requiring reversal.”

After Trump filed his appeal of McAfee’s decision on March 29, it commenced a 45-day window for the appeals court to decide whether to grant the appeal. Defendants must prove to the court that the order they’re appealing “appears to be dispositive of the case” was made erroneously and could result in “substantial error at trial or affect the rights of the appealing party.”

If the appeals court were to take up the appeal of the decision not to remove Willis, it could help Trump achieve his goal of attempting to delay trials in his four criminal cases before the 2024 election as he seeks another four years in the Oval Office.

Willis’s filing on Monday coincided with a request by Trump and his remaining 13 co-defendants to appeal a ruling by McAfee not to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds, another potential avenue for Trump to delay his trial if the effort to remove the lead prosecutor ultimately fails.

“President Trump and the other unjustly accused defendants have jointly filed a motion requesting the Court to grant a certificate of immediate review of its Order denying their pretrial First Amendment challenges,” Steve Sadow, one of Trump’s Georgia attorneys, wrote in a statement.

McAfee wrote last week that the defense had not shown any “authority that the speech and conduct alleged is protected political speech.”

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“After interpreting the indictment’s language liberally in favor of the State as required at this pretrial stage, the Court finds that the Defendants’ expressions and speech are alleged to have been made in furtherance of criminal activity and constitute false statements knowingly and willfully made in matters within a government agency’s jurisdiction which threaten to deceive and harm the government,” the judge wrote in his decision last week.

McAfee will first have to grant defendants’ permission to appeal his denial to dismiss the charges on First Amendment grounds.

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