Judge to consider divorce case ensnaring Trump Georgia prosecutors

Allegations of ‘improper’ relationship have roiled Fulton DA’s office
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (right) interacts with colleagues Donald Wakeford (left) and Nathan Wade (center) during a hearing on Jan. 24, 2023. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (right) interacts with colleagues Donald Wakeford (left) and Nathan Wade (center) during a hearing on Jan. 24, 2023. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

A Cobb County judge on Monday will hear arguments about whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis must testify in the divorce case of a colleague with whom she’s been accused of having a romantic relationship.

Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson will also consider whether to unseal the divorce case involving Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor who has helped lead the Donald Trump election interference case for more than two years, and his estranged wife, Joycelyn Wade.

The closely watched hearing will help determine whether potentially damaging information about the prosecutors ends up in the hands of the media, defense attorneys and critics of the racketeering case. Opponents of the prosecution are hoping it contains details that could help undermine the probe.

Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for defendant Mike Roman who made the allegations about Willis and Wade in a court filing earlier this month, will argue in favor of making the records public at the 11:30 a.m. hearing. She’s indicated they contain evidence about the prosecutors’ alleged personal relationship.

A coalition of 15 media organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have also filed a motion calling for the records to be unsealed, arguing it’s in the public interest.

In a statement issued Sunday, Merchant quoted the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who once wrote that sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. “The cornerstone of our justice system and our democratic process demands that the public have full access to court records in all but a very few limited circumstances, and this is not one of them,” she added.

On Friday, an attorney for Joycelyn Wade appeared to bolster Merchant’s claims by producing some of Nathan Wade’s credit card statements. They showed that he purchased airline tickets for himself and Willis for trips to San Francisco, Miami and Aruba in 2022 and 2023.

Merchant is seeking to have the charges dismissed against Roman, a former Trump campaign operative, and for Willis and the entire Fulton DA’s office removed from the case. She contended that the alleged relationship was improper because Willis financially benefited from the vacations paid for by Wade, who’s earned roughly $654,000 in legal fees for his work on the election case.

Headlines have swirled for two weeks without a direct response from Willis or Nathan Wade. That vacuum has allowed critics of the probe, including Trump himself, to spread claims about the veteran prosecutor, her decision-making and the validity of the underlying case.

A Willis spokesman has said the she would respond to Roman’s allegations in a formal court filing, which is due by Feb. 2. The DA broke her silence on the matter during an impassioned speech at Atlanta’s Big Bethel AME Church last weekend, during which she described herself as a “very flawed, hard-headed and imperfect” person. She also defended Wade’s credentials and suggested critics were attacking her and Wade because they are Black. Wade has not responded to requests for comment.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Trump case, has scheduled an evidentiary hearing about Roman’s allegations on Feb. 15. Merchant said she plans to call witnesses.

Monday’s hearing surrounding the Wades’ divorce was originally scheduled for the end of the month but was moved up due to a mushrooming fight over Willis’ deposition, which has been scheduled for Tuesday.

Willis moved to quash the subpoena from Joycelyn Wade’s attorney last week, arguing she did not provide a relevant reason for deposing her. The DA’s attorney, Cinque Axam, accused Joycelyn Wade of trying to obstruct the Trump case and conspiring with the case’s critics to “use the civil discovery process to annoy, embarrass and oppress District Attorney Willis.”

“Because the parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the concept of fault is not at issue, there is no information that District Attorney Willis could provide that might prove relevant to granting or denying the divorce,” Axam argued.

Joycelyn Wade’s attorney, Andrea Dyer Hastings, said her client wants to depose Willis to get “pertinent information from her husband’s paramour” regarding their relationship as well as his financial involvement in that relationship. Her response added, “These answers are relevant to the equitable division of the marital estate, dissipation of marital assets and (Nathan Wade’s) capacity to provide spousal support.”

Depositions are transcribed and sometimes recorded. If Willis is compelled to go forward with the sworn testimony it’s possible her comments could end up becoming public.

The allegations have raised questions about whether the Trump case is damaged.

Clark Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, said Friday that “Willis may want to consider taking a leave from the DA’s office, allowing one of her chief deputies to assume control” over the case and decide whether to continue Nathan Wade’s contract.

“A decision to take a voluntary leave could be considered to be in the public interest,” he said.

Norm Eisen, who worked as White House ethics czar during the Obama administration, said there’s no legal basis under Georgia law for either Willis or Wade to be disqualified from the case. But he said it would be “wise” for Wade to voluntarily step aside, despite his “long record of successes for this team.”

It would “be a first and perhaps the most important measure that the DA’s office can take to restore a focus on the overwhelming evidence of potential criminal liability in this case,” Eisen, who has long defended the case, told reporters on Saturday.