Media outlets seek release of Fulton prosecutor’s divorce filings

15 outlets: ‘The public interest in this matter cannot be overstated’

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and 14 other news outlets are asking a Cobb County judge to unseal court records in a divorce case involving one of the top prosecutors of the Fulton County election interference probe.

The media organizations argued in a Tuesday court filing that the divorce proceedings involving special prosecutor Nathan Wade and wife Joycelyn are of major public interest given the former’s job helping oversee the historic racketeering case involving former President Donald Trump, onetime White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and 13 others.

“The public interest in this matter cannot be overstated,” the group wrote.

The outlets, represented by AJC attorneys Tom Clyde and Lesli Gaither, said that the Georgia Supreme Court recognizes a “sweeping presumption of access” to court records, including cases involving family matters that could be embarrassing or result in an invasion of privacy.

“The Court has reiterated time and again that open judicial records and proceedings are an integral part of our democratic form of government,” the Atlanta attorneys argued.

Last week, Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for defendant and former Trump campaign operative Mike Roman, alleged that Wade was already in a romantic relationship with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis when he was hired in late 2021. Since then, Merchant argued, Wade has taken Willis on vacations using money he was paid by her office, raising the possibility that the DA has inappropriately benefitted financially from the Trump case.

Merchant is pushing for the charges against Roman to be dismissed and for Willis and the entire Fulton DA’s office to be removed from the broader case. She did not provide evidence backing up her claims, though she suggested that some proof was included inside Wade’s divorce filings, which were sealed in February 2022.

The Cobb Superior Court judge overseeing the Wades’ divorce case has scheduled a Jan. 31 hearing on whether to unseal the documents. Willis was subpoenaed to appear for a deposition with Joycelyn Wade’s attorneys on Jan. 23, and her office has also been directed to provide unspecified documents.

A spokesman for Willis has said the DA will respond to the allegations in an upcoming court filing, though it’s unclear when that will be released. Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Trump case, said he will schedule a hearing to address Roman’s motion after Willis responds.

During an impassioned 35-minute speech at Atlanta’s Big Bethel AME Church on Sunday, Willis steered clear of the central allegations in Roman’s motion but defended Wade’s credentials without naming him directly.

She said the attacks were racially motivated because they targeted Wade, who is Black, but not two other white attorneys she hired as special prosecutors.

“First thing they say, ‘Oh, she’s gonna play the race card now,’” Willis said. “But no God, isn’t it them that’s playing the race card when they only question one? Isn’t it them playing the race card when they constantly think I need someone from some other jurisdiction in some other state to tell me how to do a job I’ve been doing almost 30 years?”

In addition to the AJC, the media organizations seeking details on the divorce case include: ABC News, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, CNN, CBS News, WSB-TV, The Wall Street Journal, Scripps News, Court TV, WANF, Guardian News, The New York Times, WXIA-TV and The Washington Post.

“The allegation that records in this action reveal a legally improper relationship between Special Prosecutor Wade and D.A. Willis must be answered in a transparent manner to preserve public confidence in our judicial system,” Clyde and Gaither argued in the filing.