Fani Willis Explainer

March 15, 2024



Fani Willis is the District Attorney for Fulton County in Georgia. Ms. Willis filed a sweeping indictment against former President Donald Trump and eighteen of his associates under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The indictment alleges that Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. In January of 2024, Michael Roman, an associate of Donald Trump and one of the individuals named in the indictment, filed a motion asking Judge McAfee to dismiss Willis. Roman accused Ms. Willis of having an improper romantic relationship with Nathaniel Wade, a prosecutor she hired to oversee the RICO indictment. Roman suggested that Willis appointed Wade to the case to benefit herself financially. Willis and Wade have both admitted to a romantic relationship but claimed it had begun after Wade’s appointment to the RICO investigation and ended prior to the indictment. Judge McAfee ruled on the issue on Friday, May 15, requiring that either Fani Willis or Nathaniel Wade remove themselves from the case for the prosecution to go forward. 

What were the allegations against Ms. Willis? 

Michael Roman has alleged that Willis and Wade began their relationship prior to the RICO case, to which Wade was appointed by virtue of his relationship with Willis. He noted that Wade had no experience with racketeering or political corruption cases. Roman suggested that Willis gave her romantic partner a high profile, well-paying job for her benefit. He paid for vacations which he and Willis took together while they were working on the case, and Roman argued she would have continued to receive financial benefits from his success in the prosecution. All of this, Roman argued, demonstrates an unethical conflict of interest for Fani Willis. This in turn affected his right to a fair trial, as Willis and Wade had a financial interest in a long trial.  

Donald Trump’s legal team filed a separate motion with Judge McAfee later in January. They claimed Ms. Willis violated bar rules against influencing jurors unfairly when giving a speech at an Atlanta church. In the speech, Willis claimed her race was part of the reason why she and Wade were being scrutinized for alleged misconduct. Trump lawyers argued this speech created bias in the minds of the public, and more importantly, any potential Fulton County jury, which requires Willis be dismissed from the case. 

What did Judge McAfee decide? 

On Friday, March 15, Judge McAfee handed down his ruling on the motions. While Fani Willis was not outright disqualified, the Judge required that she either step aside or remove Nathaniel Wade from his position as Special Prosecutor before the case could go forward. McAfee stated that the defendants had not sufficiently demonstrated that Willis had a conflict of interest, as they could not demonstrate that Willis had not reimbursed Wade for the trips, nor that they were trying to drag out the case. However, McAfee did note that “the established record now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team – an appearance that must be removed through the State’s selection of one of two options [Willis removing herself or Wade being removed].” McAfee also denied Trump’s separate motion to disqualify Fani Willis for her speech at the church in Atlanta. This decision is a comfortable middle ground for McAfee, allowing him to require some action be taken to remedy Willis’s apparent appearance of impropriety, without taking the radical step of dismissing the District Attorney altogether. Read the full text of Judge McAfee’s decision here. 

What other consequences could Ms. Willis face? 

Ms. Willis could face further consequences from other authorities as well. The state of Georgia recently created the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Qualifications Commission. The commission’s operational procedures and authority are not fully defined at this time. However, it will likely be given power to discipline or fire Georgia prosecutors. It is possible Ms. Willis could be investigated and punished by this commission. The Georgia State Bar has also received complaints about the conduct of Willis and Wade, though they have not taken any action thus far. And the Georgia Senate is currently investigating Ms. Willis and her alleged misconduct, though they have no power to discipline her.  

How could this impact the Georgia RICO case? 

If Ms. Willis chooses to step aside, Georgia law requires the executive director of Georgia’s Prosecuting Attorneys Council (PAC) to select a new attorney to continue the case. That attorney will have the authority to modify the charges in the indictment, or to drop the case all together. There is a possibility that the RICO case could change noticeably if a new attorney is chosen, though it is unlikely it will be dropped altogether. The director of the PAC has already stated he will appoint someone who intends to continue the prosecution. If Nathaniel Wade is removed as Special Prosecutor, the case could also be delayed, as Willis searches for a new person to appoint to this vacancy. 

 The New York Times has covered Fani Willis and the Trump Election Case in Georgia in depth. Read more here.    




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