Fulton DA Willis, Wade subpoenaed to testify at Feb. 15 hearing

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade have been subpoenaed to testify at a Feb. 15 hearing involving motions to disqualify them from the election interference case, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed by the law firm of Ashleigh Merchant against the DA’s office, contends the office is intentionally withholding information sought in Open Records Act requests in advance of the upcoming hearing. The DA’s office, in a recent letter, said it has complied with state law.

Merchant represents Michael Roman, one of 15 remaining defendants in the racketeering case that accuses former President Donald Trump of overseeing a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

Earlier this month, Merchant filed an explosive motion that argues Willis and her office should be disqualified from the election case because she has been involved in an improper romantic relationship with Wade. The motion said Willis benefited financially from the relationship, with Wade paying for their vacations and hotel stays with taxpayer money he made for his work on the election case.

Wade was expected to be questioned on Wednesday about the alleged relationship with Willis during a hearing in his divorce proceedings. But on Tuesday he settled with his estranged wife on a temporary basis, cancelling the hearing. Willis had been subpoenaed to testify in the divorce case, but Cobb County Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson said he wants to hear from Wade first before deciding whether Willis needs to testify.

Now it appears possible that Willis and Wade will have to testify at the Feb. 15 hearing before Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, although they may seek to quash Merchant’s subpoenas. Willis, who has yet to directly address the allegations, has been directed by McAfee to file a response by Friday.

In addition, Merchant is also seeking to serve subpoenas to other members of the DA’s staff. They include prosecutor Daysha Young, a member of the Trump prosecution team; Deputy District Attorney Sonya Allen, a member of the anti-corruption division who has also entered the race to be Cobb County district attorney; investigators Thomas Ricks and Michael Hill; executive assistant Tia Green; and attorney Dexter Bond, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Merchant also has issued subpoenas to tourism companies H2O Limited and Vacation Express seeking records of airline tickets, hotels and rental cars reserved for Willis and Wade from Dec. 1, 2020, to the present. And she subpoenaed financial records involving Wade and his former law firm from Synovus Bank.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Merchant contends the DA’s office is deliberately stalling its responses to her Open Records Act requests in advance of the hearing.

“Mr. Roman believes that Willis’ use of money budgeted to (the DA’s office) is of utmost importance in evaluating whether Willis and Wade have an irreparable and fatal conflict of interest and whether, and to what extent, Willis has otherwise used public monies for personal gain,” said the lawsuit, filed in Fulton State Court.

A spokesman for Willis said the DA’s office has yet to be served the lawsuit. But in a letter sent on Friday, the DA’s office told Merchant that “respectfully, we disagree with your disingenuous implication” that the office has violated the Open Records Act. It said it had complied with all 14 of her requests, including 12 that were filed recently.

The office told Merchant: some of the records she is seeking are being put together for her; some of the records she is seeking cannot be produced because they are not maintained by the DA’s office; and some of the records have already been turned over to her. The office also provided records showing Merchant has accessed some of the information she has sought.

Merchant, recently sworn in as the new president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the DA’s office has fallen short of complying with the law.

“It is disappointing to have to file lawsuits to obtain access to records that the public is entitled to,” she said Wednesday. “We believe that transparency is vital to an open and responsible government and we hope that this can be resolved quickly so that we can get the public documents we are entitled to receive.”