Misconduct allegations lead to scrutiny of Fulton Trump prosecutor

Nathan Wade is accused of romantic relationship with DA
Fulton County special prosecutor Nathan Wade has come under scrutiny since a defendant's court filing accused him of having a romantic relationship with District Attorney Fani Willis.   (AP  file photo/Jason Getz, Pool )

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Fulton County special prosecutor Nathan Wade has come under scrutiny since a defendant's court filing accused him of having a romantic relationship with District Attorney Fani Willis. (AP file photo/Jason Getz, Pool )

As she spoke from the podium of Big Bethel AME Church during a Jan. 14 service, embattled Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis defended her special prosecutor in the Donald Trump election interference case, ticking off highlights from his resume.

Prosecutor. Special assistant attorney general. Judge. Investigator for the Cobb County sheriff. They were among the qualifications of Nathan Wade that Willis listed as she pushed back against allegations that he was not suited to oversee the prosecution of Trump.

But a detailed review of Wade’s resume by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raises questions about some of those roles.

Over his 25 years as a lawyer, Wade has had scant experience as a prosecutor. An AJC review of court records in metro Atlanta found no evidence he ever prosecuted a felony before he was hired to lead the case against Trump. Records show, however, he was a defense lawyer in at least 75 criminal cases in state and federal court, some of them felonies.

His role as an investigator in Cobb County was scrutinized after it emerged that he kept no records of his months of work, saying instead that he kept the material in his head, according to NBC affiliate 11Alive (WXIA-TV).

Wade’s qualifications have been in the spotlight following a court filing alleging he and Willis were in a romantic relationship when she hired him to serve as a special prosecutor in the racketeering case against Trump and his allies. Credit card invoices which have emerged since then show Wade purchased plane tickets he and Willis used for trips to San Francisco, Miami and Aruba. They have not directly addressed the claims.

Here is what The AJC found:

State attorney general

Wade’s biography on his law firm website states he was “recently appointed special assistant attorney general for the state of Georgia.”

Georgia law allows the attorney general to pay private attorneys to do legal work on behalf of the state. These special assistant attorneys general are typically used in cases where the attorney general’s office doesn’t have sufficient manpower, it wouldn’t be efficient to use state attorneys or specialized knowledge is required.

In December 2010, then-Attorney General Thurbert Baker appointed Wade as a special assistant attorney general, according to a letter provided to the AJC. The appointment came just a month before Baker left office.

But Kara Richardson, communications director for Attorney General Chris Carr, said his office has “no records to indicate that Mr. Wade was ever engaged as a special assistant attorney general” going back to 2006. The AJC found no record of work he had conducted in or for the AG’s office.

Neither Wade nor Willis’ office responded to questions about Wade’s status as a special assistant attorney general, or his other qualifications. A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office has said it will comment on the allegations in court filings.

Prosecutor

Wade’s work as a prosecutor outside of his involvement in the election interference case was called into question by Ashleigh Merchant, who represents defendant Michael Roman in the case.

It was Merchant who publicly suggested Wade and Willis were more than just colleagues. In that court filing she said she could find no proof Wade had prosecuted a felony case. Neither could the AJC.

Wade’s online biography states he has worked as a prosecutor, but offers no insight into the cases he’s prosecuted.

Wade worked in the Cobb County solicitor’s office from Oct. 1, 1998 to Sept. 11, 1999 the county told the AJC. It said Wade was hired as a judicial program coordinator and promoted to an assistant solicitor position on May 24, 1999. That’s the same day Wade was admitted to practice law in Georgia, according to the State Bar of Georgia.

While county solicitors are prosecutors they do not handle felony cases. Their work involves misdemeanor cases, traffic citations, and other citations issued by county departments. Wade has not worked for the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes felony cases, or in any other capacity for the county, officials there told the AJC.

Outside of Cobb County, where Wade’s law firm is based, public court records for 18 counties show Wade has worked on 66 criminal cases in addition to the Trump prosecution, including felony cases. But his work on those 66 cases, in Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, was entirely as defense counsel.

Federal court records show Wade has worked on nine criminal cases in federal court, outside the Trump prosecution, representing defendants each time.

On the bench

In his law firm biography, Wade states he “serves the citizens of Cobb County as associate municipal court judge and as a pro has (sic) state court judge.”

The AJC contacted all the cities in Cobb County. Wade served as an associate municipal court judge for the city of Marietta from June 8, 2011, until November 1, 2021, according to city officials. He was also appointed as one of two municipal judges in Austell in February 2018, but was never called upon to hear a case, the city’s clerk said, adding that Wade requested a leave of absence from the role in October 2021.

Municipal courts typically handle traffic cases arising within city limits, cases involving municipal ordinances, and certain misdemeanor offenses.

Wade unsuccessfully challenged Cobb County Superior Court Judge Dorothy A. Robinson in a nonpartisan election in November 2008, winning 25% of the almost 239,000 votes cast. He also unsuccessfully sought election to the Cobb County Superior Court in 2014 and 2016.

Sheriff investigation

In 2020, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren asked Wade’s law firm to investigate operations at the county jail following the deaths of numerous inmates. In a related lawsuit, 11Alive claimed the investigation was just a ruse to deny its requests for records about the deaths.

The station’s complaint against Warren, Wade and Cobb County’s records custodian alleged that Wade had “no experience, education, training, certifications, or specialized skills that qualify him to investigate jailhouse deaths, complaints regarding use of force, or potential civil rights violations” and “no bona fide investigative authority.”

The complaint alleged that Wade did not charge the sheriff’s office for the investigation, and suggested he was hired because he was a friend of the sheriff and his chief deputy. The judge in the case said in an order that Wade had agreed to work for the sheriff “pro bono.”

Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren addresses the crowd during the 30th annual Cobb Sheriff’s Corn Boilin’ at Jim Miller Park in Marietta, Georgia on Monday, July 15, 2019. Warren asked Nathan Wade to investigate deaths at the Cobb County Jail in 2020. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com

icon to expand image

“Upon information and belief, Mr. Wade has not generated or provided to the sheriff’s office any written work product related to his ‘investigation’ in the three months since it began,” the Sept. 17, 2020, lawsuit stated.

11Alive reported in October 2020 that Wade had admitted during a hearing in the case that he had kept no records of his investigation.

“I have obviously my brainchild, what’s going on in my mind about it,” Wade said, according to the Atlanta news station.

In an October 2020 order, the judge said Wade “has not produced any reports or other documentation of his review, has no timetable for compiling and releasing a report, and does not possess any materials belonging to the (Cobb County Sheriff’s Office) and responsive to the Open Records Act request.”

The judge instructed the sheriff to release the public records sought by the television station, which subsequently dismissed its case.

Peer reviews

Wade’s criminal defense work has elicited both praise and criticism from his peers.

In 2006, Wade was one of 34 Georgia lawyers on the annual “Legal Elite” list for criminal law compiled by the publication Georgia Trend, based solely on peer nominations. Also on the list that year were Steve Sadow, who now leads Trump’s defense in the Georgia election interference case, Brian Steel and Bruce Harvey, who represent defendants Jeffery “Young Thug” Williams and Quarmarvious Nichols, respectively, in the YSL racketeering case, and David Nahmias, who went on to serve as the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Rudy Giuliani's lawyer Bill Thomas (left) and Fulton special prosecutor Nathan Wade talk after a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court on Aug. 9, 2022, in Atlanta. (Steve Schaefer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

Wade was subsequently accused of doing a poor job at trial in 2007, when he helped defend client Jeremiah Oden against criminal charges for aggravated sexual battery and sexual battery in Paulding County. A jury found Oden guilty on both counts, prompting him to seek a new trial based in part on his belief that Wade and his other defense attorney, Terrence Bradley, were ineffective.

Andrew Fleischman, who represented Oden in his new trial bid, told the AJC that Wade and Bradley “messed up” Oden’s defense at trial by failing to object to certain witness testimony, among other things.

“It was just really notably bad lawyering to me,” Fleischman said. “(Wade) had no command of the case.”

Oden’s request for a new trial was rejected. In an October 2015 opinion, the Georgia Court of Appeals said the work by Oden’s trial lawyers was not “patently unreasonable.”

Wade has been a recipient of a Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service from the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism set up by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Trump prosecutor

In the Trump case, much of Wade’s work has been conducted behind the scenes, which makes it difficult to truly gauge his effectiveness. He’s a frequent presence in court, but he typically lets his deputies argue for the DA’s office.

Wade’s defenders point to a string of wins the DA’s team has racked up so far - beating back efforts from some defendants to move their cases to federal court and securing four guilty pleas.

His early work was praised by some of the special purpose grand jurors who worked closely with him for nearly eight months in 2022. Several of the five special grand jurors who spoke anonymously to the AJC last spring gave Wade high marks, saying he “led the charge” in the grand jury room and “had a light side as well as his intense and serious side.”

During the special grand jury investigation, Wade led the DA’s daily presentations to jurors, signed off on subpoenas and helped interview witnesses.

“He was patient,” one juror said about his work with witnesses.

Attorney Norm Eisen, who helped the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s impeachment in 2020 and who has closely followed Trump’s prosecution in Georgia, said that Wade’s successes in the election interference case should be acknowledged.

Even so, he said Wade should resign from the case because the recent allegations of improper behavior are “a distraction from the overwhelming evidence that led to the criminal charges” against Trump and his co-defendants.

“Mr. Wade has done a very good job of shepherding this case, together with the DA and the rest of the team, up to this point,” Eisen said. “The wise thing to do now would be for him to voluntarily step aside.”