Trials & Litigation

Georgia appeals court pauses Trump election case to consider disqualifying DA Fani Willis

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A Georgia appeals court has agreed to review a lower court ruling allowing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to continue to prosecute the election interference case she brought against Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz, Pool)

The Georgia Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered a halt to the proceedings in the election interference case against former president Donald Trump and eight other defendants pending the outcome of their appeal seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis.

The order, issued by the full appeals court, means the case against the former president and eight of his co-defendants, accusing them of a criminal conspiracy to try to overturn his defeat in the state, will almost certainly not be scheduled for trial before the fall election or even the new year. It remains unclear if the case against the six remaining co-defendants who did not sign onto the appeal will proceed.

The court announced on Monday that oral arguments in the appeal of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Willis to continue prosecuting the case against Trump is now scheduled for Oct. 4. A three-judge appeals panel will then have the duration of two full terms of its proceedings to issue a ruling, a period that would end in the first week of March if the arguments proceed as scheduled.

Trump and the other defendants asked the appeals court to reverse McAfee’s March 15 ruling keeping Willis, a Democrat, and her office on the case despite their claims that she had engaged in an improper relationship with an outside attorney she had appointed to lead the investigation.

McAfee ruled that Trump and the others had “failed to meet their burden” of proving that Willis’s romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade and allegations that she was financially enriched by trips the two took together were enough of a “conflict of interest” to disqualify her from the case.

The announcement comes amid significant delays in the two other cases pending against Trump. In early May, a federal judge indefinitely delayed Trump’s Florida trial on charges that he mishandled classified documents and obstructed government efforts to retrieve them. In Washington, the federal case alleging Trump broke the law when he plotted to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden is on hold, waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity.

That means that Trump’s state trial in New York, which concluded last week with a guilty verdict on all 34 charges that he falsified business records in connection with hush money payments to an adult-film actress in 2016, is likely to be the only criminal case to reach trial status before the Nov. 5 election between the two presumptive nominees, Trump and President Biden.

Trump lawyer Steve Sadow and Willis spokesman Jeff DiSantis declined to comment on the ruling.

The eight other defendants who sought to disqualify Willis and her staff are: former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; former Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani; former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark; former Trump campaign aide Mike Roman; former Trump campaign lawyer Robert Cheeley; two Trump electors from 2020, David Shafer and Cathy Latham; and Harrison Floyd, a former leader of Black Voices for Trump.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Six other defendants are not a party to the appeal. An additional four others initially charged in the far-reaching indictment have accepted guilty pleas.

The appeals judges assigned to the case are Trent Brown, Todd Markle and Ben Land—all from outside of Atlanta, in more conservative portions of the state, which several defense attorneys said was probably good news for the defendants.

Separately, if Trump wins election in November, his legal team is widely expected to seek to halt the case for the duration of his second term. If he succeeds, it’s unclear if Willis’s office would proceed with the prosecution of the other defendants while Trump is in the White House.

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