Trump Codefendant Joins Push to Disqualify Fani Willis for ‘Prejudicial’ Behavior

Codefendants are seeking an evidentiary hearing.
Trump Codefendant Joins Push to Disqualify Fani Willis for ‘Prejudicial’ Behavior
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears before Judge Scott McAfee for a hearing in the 2020 Georgia election interference case at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2023. (Dennis Byron/Pool via Getty Images)
Catherine Yang
2/5/2024
Updated:
2/8/2024
0:00

As Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis moved to cancel a hearing that would further spotlight allegations of misconduct in the high profile election case she is prosecuting against former President Donald Trump and 15 codefendants, several of those codefendants are arguing that an evidentiary hearing needs to be held.

David Shafer, former chair of the Republican Party in Georgia and one of the alternate electors who cast a ballot for President Trump in 2020, filed a lengthy motion to disqualify Ms. Willis on Feb. 5.

He argued that Ms. Willis “has engaged in a pattern of prosecutorial, forensic misconduct” that warrants the disqualification of her and her entire team, citing dozens of news articles and quoting Ms. Willis’s interviews extensively.

“All of the causes for the disqualification are self-inflicted blows,” the motion reads. He alleged that Ms. Willis’s public statements about the case have strayed “wildly” from what is proper, pointing to multiple interviews in which she referred to some of the codefendants as “fake electors.”

Mr. Shafer’s argument is similar to one filed by attorneys for President Trump, who argue that Ms. Willis has made extrajudicial statements to inject “racial animus“ and prejudice into the case in a manner unbefitting a public prosecutor. Both motions highlight a speech Ms. Willis gave at the Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta on Jan. 14, where she repeatedly invoked God while implying her critics were racially motivated.

Mr. Shafer’s motion also references allegations made by codefendant Michael Roman in a Jan. 8 court filing, which first drew attention to the romantic relationship between Ms. Willis and Nathan Wade, an attorney she appointed special prosecutor to take a lead role in the election case.

Mr. Shafer’s attorneys have taken issue with the way Ms. Willis chose to respond to those allegations, by making “the most offensive and incendiary allegations against her accusers” and to “infect” and “taint” the jury pool and allege that anyone questioning her relationship must be doing so “for racist purposes.”

As such, Mr. Shafer cannot get a fair trial in Fulton County, his attorneys argue. They requested a change of venue in a separate motion. According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mr. Shafer is hoping to transfer his case to Burke County or Peach County, both of which voted for President Trump over President Joe Biden in 2020. In Fulton County, more than 70 percent of voters had voted for President Biden.

Prejudice and Media

Mr. Shafer’s attorneys pointed to other cases where prosecutors have been disqualified or recused from cases after statements made in the media.
In one highly publicized case, defendants had been charged after participating in a protest after the death of George Floyd. A trial court granted a defendant’s motion to recuse a district attorney who had been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ms. Willis has argued that the nature of her relationship with a hired attorney alleged in the original Jan. 8 filing is not grounds for disqualification and represents no conflict of interest, but the media attention given to the allegations has undoubtedly complicated the matter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that ‘[t]he heightened public clamor resulting from radio and television coverage will inevitably result in prejudice,’” Mr. Shafer’s motion reads.

The defense attorneys argue that Ms. Willis not only improperly injected race into the case, but also religion, asking for a response from God in her church speech.

“She seems to be suggesting that God opposes the disqualification motion and approves of her prosecutorial decisions,” the motion reads, arguing that her claim that she is doing “God’s work” was “grossly improper.”

They allege Ms. Willis similarly used the media to prejudice the public and prospective jurors against the defendants, with ongoing references to Mr. Shafer and others as “fake electors.”

Mr. Shafer had previously filed other motions to dismiss the case, arguing he acted legally as an alternate elector, and under advisement from attorneys named as codefendants in the case—one of whom has since taken a plea bargain.

“District Attorney Willis used the media attention surrounding this case to make public comments intended to inflict as much damage on her opponents as she believed that she could get away with,” the motion reads.

Roman Allegations

Mr. Roman’s motion to dismiss was the first action since the romantic nature of Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade’s relationship was made public.

In a lengthy filing, he alleged that Ms. Willis improperly benefited financially from the arrangement with Mr. Wade, who had been paid close to $700,000 by the district attorney’s office, and spent money on vacations with Ms. Willis.

Mr. Wade had been going through a divorce at the time, and bank statements corroborating those vacations were revealed soon after as the two cases collided. The divorce case filings revealed that Mr. Wade had been held in contempt by the court for not producing discovery, and his then-wife was seeking financial information relevant to an equitable split of marital assets.

In an affidavit submitted for the election case, Mr. Wade stated that his “personal relationship” with Ms. Willis began only in 2022, though they had known each other professionally since 2019. He also stated that he had never cohabited with Ms. Willis, nor shared a financial account with her.

Ashleigh Merchant, attorney for Mr. Roman, disputed these claims in a response filing on Friday, arguing an evidentiary hearing was necessary as she had witnesses who could testify that Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis had shared an apartment, and that they had more than a friendship as early as 2019.

“They are hoping this Court simply sees all the growing smoke cloud and says, ‘No fire, nothing else to see here.’ It is not that simple. This is not a summary judgment motion. Peoples’ freedom and lives are at stake,” the motion reads.