Fulton DA Fani Willis responds: A closer look at the allegations and her defense

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (Photo: Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (Photo: Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Friday formally responded to a motion that she be disqualified from prosecuting former President Donald Trump and other defendants in the election interference case. Here’s a summary of the allegations in the motion from defendant Michael Roman, with Willis’ response to each.

Allegation: Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade have been engaged in a “romantic relationship” that began before Willis appointed Wade to oversee the prosecution.

Response: Willis and Wade acknowledged a ”personal” relationship. But they say it began after she appointed him in November 2021 to oversee the election case. They did not say if they are still involved.

“In 2022, District Attorney Willis and I developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship,” Wade said in a sworn court statement attached to Friday’s court filing.

Allegation: Wade and Willis profited from the prosecution of the case at the expense of taxpayers. Wade purchased plane tickets and hotels rooms for trips with Willis to Napa Valley, Florida and the Caribbean.

Response: In his sworn statement, Wade said the couple divided the cost of travel roughly evenly between them - sometimes he paid, sometimes she paid. Wade said he had no financial interest in the outcome of the prosecution, no funds paid to him for his work have been shared with Willis and she received no funds or personal gain from his position as special prosecutor.

Wade also said they had “never cohabitated,” he has “never shared household expenses” with Willis and has “never shared a joint financial account of any kind” with her.

Allegation: Wade has never prosecuted a felony case and is not qualified to lead the election interference case. Yet he has earned nearly $654,000 for his work so far.

(After Roman’s claims surfaced, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed metro Atlanta court records and found no evidence that Wade had prosecuted any felonies. But The AJC determined he was a defense attorney in at least 66 criminal cases, including some involving felonies. As an assistant solicitor in Cobb County Wade would have prosecuted misdemeanor cases, traffic citations and other citations.)

Response: In Friday’s filing, Willis defended Wade’s qualifications and her authority to appoint him. She said “Wade has long distinguished himself as an exceptionally talented litigator with significant trial experience.” She said his pay was commensurate with his duties overseeing the prosecution, and he largely stepped away from his private practice to take a job “at a steeply reduced hourly rate compared to the metro Atlanta legal market.”

In his statement, Wade said he had “tried many felony cases representing clients in serious matters including, but not limited to, capital offenses of murder, rape and armed robbery, as well as aggravated assault and drug trafficking.” He said he has “represented high-profile athletes, entertainers and elected officials” and has “tried complex civil and criminal matters.

Allegation: Willis and Wade have “violated laws regulating the use of public monies, suffer from irreparable conflicts of interest and have violated their oaths of office” and should be disqualified from prosecuting the case.

Response: Willis said her appointment of Wade violated no state our county contacting procedures. As a state constitutional officer, Willis said she has the authority to execute contracts with her office.

Willis said she is not required to follow county contracting procedures because she is a state constitutional officer. But she said she went beyond what was required by ensuring Wade’s invoices were reviewed and approved by the county’s chief financial officer - “hardly a process one would undertake if concealing a scheme to funnel ill-gotten funds outside the prying eyes of county officials.”

Allegation: The actions of Willis and Wade have “created a fatal and irreparable defect in the indictment against Mr. Roman and a conflict of interest that has tainted the entire prosecution.”

Response: Willis said her relationship with Wade does not pose a conflict of interest under state law. She cited relationships between two sets of defense attorneys on the case that would also merit their disqualification, if they were held to the same standard.

“Conflict arises when a prosecutor has a personal interest or stake in a defendant’s conviction - a charge that no defendant offers any support for beyond fantastical theories and rank speculation,” Willis wrote.

Allegation: The special prosecutor’s oath of office was never filed, which may have been an attempt to shield from public knowledge the fact that the special prosecutor had been appointed without legal authority.

Response: Willis said her appointment of Wade complies with state and local law. She noted that Judge Scott McAfee has already rejected similar challenges from other defendants.