Trump Challenges Ruling Letting DA Willis Stay on Georgia Case

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump and seven co-defendants want permission to appeal a Georgia judge’s ruling that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can remain on the closely watched state election-interference case despite her romance with a top prosecutor.

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Trump on Monday filed court papers asking Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to have the Georgia Court of Appeals review his decision. McAfee ruled March 15 that Willis’ romance with special prosecutor Nathan Wade created an appearance of impropriety that required one or the other to step aside. Wade resigned hours later.

McAfee has 10 days to decide whether to let Trump seek the review, and the appeals court must then decide whether to take the case within 45 days. The deadlines create more delays around Trump’s legal fate as he campaigns to return to the White House. Now the presumed Republican nominee, Trump faces four criminal cases, but no firm trial date. Willis has accused Trump of racketeering for trying to overturn his Georgia loss to Joe Biden in 2020.

“Whether District Attorney Willis and her office are permitted to continue representing the state of Georgia in prosecuting the defendants in this action is of the utmost importance to this case, and ensuring the appellate courts have the opportunity to weigh in on these matters pre-trial is paramount,” according to the filing in Fulton County Superior Court.

Read More: Trump Georgia Prosecutor Willis Stays on Case After Wade Out

Trump attorney Steve Sadow said in an email that McAfee’s order is also “ripe for appellate review” because Georgia case law hasn’t set clear standards for when prosecutors can be disqualified over improper comments. Sadow and other defense lawyers say Willis improperly injected race into the case during a Jan. 14 speech she gave at a historically Black church in Atlanta.

McAfee oversaw several days of hearings to determine whether Willis should be disqualified for hiring Wade to oversee the Trump case, paying him $650,000 and taking vacations with him. Trump and several co-defendants joined the effort to dismiss the indictment or remove Willis, Wade and the DA’s office, arguing that she had a personal stake in the outcome of the case.

In his ruling, McAfee sharply criticized Willis’ conduct and judgment. He found an “odor of mendacity” hung over the case, writing that “an outsider could reasonably think that the district attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences.” Still, the romance didn’t create a conflict of interest that required her removal, said the judge, finding instead an appearance of impropriety.

Trump and the others said Wade’s resignation is “insufficient to cure the appearance of impropriety the court has determined exists,” according to the filing. “Given these facts and the current case law, the Court of Appeals should speak definitively to this outcome-determinative issue now.”

Normally, defendants can’t appeal a judge’s ruling until after a trial is complete. Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham said there’s a “real possibility” that McAfee and the appeals court will grant the request for a review.

“The biggest reason would be that it prevents the possibility of Trump being convicted and then raising the issue successfully on appeal,” Cunningham said. “Judge McAfee may say, ‘Let’s settle this question once and for all.’”

Cunningham said it’s unclear whether Trump can still appeal if McAfee denies the request.

(Updates with comment from Trump’s lawyer.)

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