HomeTop StoriesJudge hears closing arguments in the hearing of 'daytime soap' Fani Willis

Judge hears closing arguments in the hearing of ‘daytime soap’ Fani Willis

Attorneys presented their closing arguments Friday afternoon during a three-day hearing to determine whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from handling the election interference case against Donald Trump because of her romantic relationship with a deputy handling the case.

The hearing was the coda to a dramatic departure from the racketeering case against the former US president and fourteen remaining co-defendants for trying to overturn the election in Georgia.

Willis sat at the counsel table in court Friday for the second half of the hearing, and Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the case, said he hoped to make a decision on the case in the next two weeks.

Related: Key witness for Trump defendants in Georgia fails to provide damning testimony

The case began in January when Michael Roman, a Republican operative and one of the defendants in the case, filed a motion alleging that Willis benefited financially from the case because of a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, a lead prosecutor in the case. Trump and several other defendants later joined the request.

John Merchant, an attorney for Roman, said as part of his argument Friday: “They did this, they knew it was wrong, they covered it up, and even when they were called out on it, they created an excuse for it. , saying it happened after the fact… You have to pay attention to how this looks to the audience. If this court allows this type of behavior to occur, the public’s entire confidence in the system will be damaged and the integrity of the system will be undermined.”

Willis and Wade both admitted to having a romantic relationship, but both said it only started after he was hired on November 1, 2021. They both testified about vacations they took together and revealed personal details about a romantic relationship that they say didn’t begin until 2022. after he was hired and ended last summer.

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Adam Abbate, an attorney in Willis’ office, said Friday: “There is not a single shred of evidence presented through the record or any testimony that shows how their due process rights or constitutional rights were violated by the relationship that ended in March 2022 started.

“There is absolutely no evidence that the district attorney benefited financially.”

A key question for McAfee is what standard to use to determine whether Willis should be disqualified. Defense attorneys argued that the appearance of a conflict of interest was enough to disqualify Willis.

Ashleigh Merchant, another lawyer for Roman, said Friday: “The law in Georgia shows that we can show the appearance of a conflict and that is enough.”

Abbate said Georgian law was clear in saying a conflict must exist. “They have to show an actual conflict,” he said. Experts say state law should have long raised that high bar and that the defendants in the case have not done so, but McAfee seemed somewhat skeptical Friday that the appearance of a conflict would not be enough.

Robert CI McBurney, another Fulton judge who oversaw the case at an earlier stage, disqualified Willis from investigating a bogus voter after she appeared at a fundraiser for his political rival. That appearance, he said, would raise questions about her motives at every step of the case, which was enough to disqualify her.

A disqualification would upend the case and delay it until after the 2024 elections. The Council of Prosecutors of Georgia, a government agency, would have exclusive authority to transfer the case to another prosecutor, and there is no timeline for this how long that could take.

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Under pressure from McAfee, Merchant struggled to articulate what exactly Willis’ personal interest in the case was. “I guess you know it when you see it,” he said.

Abbate also rejected claims that his client lived a lavish lifestyle, according to Willis. “She [Willis] stayed at a DoubleTree in Napa: a DoubleTree. “I don’t know if this is a lavish hotel,” he said.

There was also more discussion about the testimony of Terrence Bradley, a key witness who told attorneys he knew the relationship began before Wade was hired. But when he testified, Wade said he was only speculating and had no firsthand knowledge.

While defense attorneys suggested Bradley was dishonest on the witness stand, McAfee pressed them to explain how they knew he was honest in text messages. Steve Sadow, a lawyer for Trump, pointed to the fact that Bradley had replied with the word “absolutely” in a text message when asked if the relationship had begun before Wade was hired.

“If we believe that he has thoroughly deposed himself, that he has not behaved honestly, what remains?” McAfee asked at one point during the hearing. “Generally you see someone who has been dropped. Maybe we have some kind of core that you can point back to and say, “That was the time he told the truth.” Do these text messages ever definitively show how he knew this, and that he actually knew? Other than just an outright statement: “Absolutely.”

Abbate tried to undermine the testimony of Bradley and Robin Yeartie, a former friend of Willis, who testified that the relationship began before 2019. He said both had a motive against Willis and Wade. Bradley, he claimed, left his law partnership with Wade after being accused of sexual assault. Yeartie, he said, had a falling out with Willis and was essentially fired from the district attorney’s office.

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Abbate said: “Mr. Bradley had every motive to lie.”

Sadow and several other attorneys said Willis should be disqualified because of a speech she gave at a historically black church in Atlanta over Martin Luther King weekend, in which she claimed the effort to disqualify her was racially motivated.

“It was a calculated determination by Ms. Willis to harm the defendant and their counsel,” Sadow said. “The purpose of that was to get public sympathy, public empathy for what Ms. Merchant had alleged in her motion,” he said, referring to Merchant.

On the surface, the question at the heart of the hearing, which lasted three days, was whether Willis had a conflict of interest because of her relationship with Wade. But over several hours of testimony, lawyers for Roman, Trump and the other defendants failed to provide any concrete evidence showing that she did.

Willis testified that she reimbursed Wade in cash for all the trips they took together — a claim that drew skepticism from attorneys, but there was no evidence to the contrary.

“This was a disqualification hearing that quickly denigrated to a daytime soap opera,” said J Tom Morgan, a former DeKalb County prosecutor who is a neighbor of Fulton County. “Did they prove that there was a conflict of interest, where this all started, absolutely not.”

But even if Willis and Wade are not disqualified, defense attorneys have used the hearings to damage the two prosecutors’ judgment and credibility in the eyes of the public.

By exposing something that they themselves have not revealed, they have given the impression that the two were trying to hide something.

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