Is appearance of impropriety enough to oust Fani Willis from Trump case?

The Fulton county superior court judge, Scott McAfee, is considering whether to dismiss Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade from the trial of former president Donald Trump and co-defendants in the racketeering and election interference case. The stakes are high, as if Willis is disqualified, it could plunge the prosecution against Trump into chaos, potentially triggering delays that could go beyond the November election. If Willis remains, the prosecution of the former US president for seeking to undermine Georgia’s 2020 election will continue – though it will be badly damaged in terms of political optics.

Defense attorneys argued that the standard for disqualifying Willis requires only that the defense prove the appearance of conflict of interest. Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign official and co-defendant in the trial, argued that public confidence in the system would be shot if this kind of behavior continued. However, Willis’s team countered that the legal standard is an actual conflict, and that it’s a high burden that the defense hasn’t met.

McAfee expressed a sense of ambiguity in case law related to prosecutorial disqualification, noting that there was no clear-cut previous example resembling the issue before him. He also raised a second set of arguments for disqualification in their closing: that Willis’s speech before congregants at Big Bethel AME church in downtown Atlanta, days after the disqualification filing, constituted “forensic misconduct,” in which a district attorney unduly influences the jury pool or inappropriately demeans the character of defense counsel.

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