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Georgia legislators start probe of Fulton district attorney

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(The Center Square) — A special committee is poised to investigate misconduct allegations involving Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the prosecutor who brought charges against former President Donald Trump.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former state Republican Party Chair David Shafer, on charges they tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

The work of the Senate Special Committee on Investigations, created with the passage of Senate Resolution 465, could rank among the most-watched state committees of the year, especially considering its potential impact on this November’s presidential election. Among the allegations the committee will probe is that Willis had an affair with a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, brought in on the case.

“There has been a dramatic decrease in public confidence of our criminal justice system,” state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said in a statement. “If true, recent allegations related to Fani Willis and Mr. Wade are deeply disturbing. We will independently investigate those claims in a bipartisan fashion while holding fast to the pursuit of truth.

“Our charge is not to interfere with ongoing criminal proceedings, to prosecute misconduct or to disqualify any individual prosecutor,” Cowsert added. “Our focus instead will seek to restore public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

The Georgia Senate has also passed Senate Bill 332, which proponents said will allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to start its work. It is pending in the state House.

“Georgians deserve prosecutors who will uphold the rule of law while promoting public safety,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, said in a statement.

What are the allegations?

The allegations began when Mike Roman, a co-defendant in the case, filed a motion on Jan. 8 to disqualify Willis, saying she and Wade “have been engaged in an improper, clandestine personal relationship during the pendency of this case.”

“It is not entirely clear when the relationship began, but it began while Wade was married,” according to Roman’s motion. “On November 2, 2021, a day after his first contract with Willis commenced, Wade filed for divorce in Cobb County Superior Court.”

Roman’s “counsel has learned that Willis and Wade have traveled personally together to such places as Napa Valley, California, Florida and the Caribbean and Wade has purchased tickets for both of them to travel on both [Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruises],” the motion continued. “Wade has also purchased hotel rooms for personal trips with funds from the same account used to receive payments under his contract with Willis.”

Additionally, Roman argued there was no evidence Fulton County authorized Willis to use county funds to retain Wade in the case.

Willis disputed the claims. In a response, she said she “has no personal conflict of interest that justifies her disqualification personally or that of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.”

“Defendants have done nothing to establish an actual conflict of interest, nor have they shown that, in the handling of the case, District Attorney Willis or Special Prosecutor Wade have acted out of any personal or financial motivation,” the motion read.

Concerns about Willis took center stage during the public comment of a Fulton County Board of Commissioners meeting this week.

“Fani Willis isn’t serving this community. She wasn’t even before she became absorbed with her own legal problems,” one resident told commissioners. “No one believes that now — amid new lawsuits, congressional investigations and subpoenas — that she will start doing her job. The community deserves a prosecutor [whose] priority is public safety and the rule of law, not helping [President] Joe Biden win in 2024. For the good of the state, she must resign.”

How might it affect the case?

One remaining question is what impact the allegations will have on the case.

“DA Willis’ affair with an attorney that she retained as a special prosecutor seems a reckless lapse in judgement,” Cooley Law School Professor Michael C.H. McDaniel told The Center Square via email. “But, the consequences of that lapse should be decided by the voters of Fulton County.”

However, McDaniel noted that “lapse certainly should not negatively impact the criminal cases against the defendants.”