Trump Judge Allows Appeal of His Ruling on DA Willis Romance

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

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Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled Wednesday that defendants can ask the Georgia Court of Appeals to review his March 15 decision that Willis’ romance with special prosecutor Nathan Wade created an appearance of impropriety. He said that required Willis or Wade to step aside. Wade resigned hours later.

While the appellate process plays out, McAfee will continue to handle other matters in the racketeering case that accuses Trump and 14 remaining co-defendants trying to overturn his Georgia loss to Joe Biden in 2020. Defense lawyers have 10 days to petition for an appellate review, and the court has 45 days from then to decide whether to take the case.

McAfee will “continue addressing the many other unrelated pending pretrial motions, regardless of whether the petition is granted,” according to his order in Atlanta state court.

If the appeals court takes the case, it will 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 in state and federal courts, but no firm trial date.

“This is highly significant,” Trump attorney Steve Sadow said in a statement. “The defense is optimistic that appellate review will lead to the case being dismissed and the DA being disqualified.”

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Willis spokesman Jeff DiSantis said that because the judge did not halt the case, the DA’s office “will work to move it forward to trial as quickly as possible.” He said the office “will limit our comment on the appellate matter to what we file with the Court of Appeals during the briefing process.”

McAfee oversaw 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 sought 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 criticized Willis, saying an “odor of mendacity” hung over the case and an outsider could “reasonably” think that Willis was “not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences.” He found the romance created an appearance of impropriety rather than a conflict of interest that required her removal.

Trump and the others said Wade’s resignation is “insufficient to cure the appearance of impropriety the court has determined exists,” according to a court filing on March 18.

(Updates with details of appellate timing in third paragraph.)

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