Experts say the Fani Willis ethics case may last a long time


Legal experts told ABC News that the extra court drama will reverberate long in the court of public opinion after the judge makes his decision and will impact how the prosecution and defense present their cases.
Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a hearing in the case of State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, February 15, 2024.
Cummings said the biggest problem with the ethics violation allegations is that it’s adding another distraction to the high-profile case.
Acevedo said from the testimony he’s seen so far in the hearings, the matter was a “slip up,” and said Willis, Wade and others have so far shown good counterarguments to the defense’s claims.
I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis testified Thursday.
The testimony got heated with Steve Sadow, Trump’s attorney, and Merchant objecting to Willis’ accusations before being broken up by the judge.
Willis also contended that she and Wade did not start dating until 2022, after he was hired by the Fulton County DA’s office.
Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade testifies at a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on February 15, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Acevedo noted that the ethics violation allegations and the court hearings surrounding it will come into play during jury selection for the Trump trial.
Moving forward, Acevedo said Willis’ ethics case will prompt the Fulton County DA’s office and other prosecuting offices to expand their scope of potential conflicts of interest.

Attorneys for several defendants have accused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of having a conflict of interest with another prosecutor. Willis is leading the prosecution against former President Donald Trump and his allies for alleged election interference in Georgia, and she has been under fire for it over the last few weeks.

Despite acknowledging in court that they were romantically involved, Willis and Nathan Wade maintain that their relationship “has never involved direct or indirect financial benefit” to the DA.

Legal experts told ABC News that the extra court drama will affect how the prosecution and defense present their cases and will have a lasting effect on public opinion long after the judge makes his decision.

Attorney Fani Willis speaks at the State of Georgia v. hearing. Donald John Trump on February 15, 2024, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia. Reuters/Alyssa Pointer.

There isn’t a situation in which this isn’t detrimental to the prosecutor, in my opinion. The Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics at the UCLA School of Law, Scott Cummings, told ABC News that it will, at the very least, divert attention from the important details of the case and prolong the trial.

The major issue with the ethics violation accusations, according to Cummings, is that they are creating yet another distraction for the already well-known case.

Willis’s relationship with Wade will undoubtedly be brought up by the former president and the co-defendants’ attorneys to foster mistrust, Cummings predicted, even in the event that the judge grants Trump co-defendant Michael Roman’s request to have Willis removed from the case.

“Unfortunately, it does interfere with the perception of integrity in the short term when it comes to optics and public perception. It’s regrettable, in my opinion, because there is no solid foundation for raising concerns about the validity of the prosecution,” Cummings remarked.

Motions pertaining to attorney conflicts of interest are frequently filed in criminal cases, according to visiting associate professor John Acevedo of Emory School of Law, but Willis’ case is unique in that it involves allegations against two prosecutors.

According to Acevedo, the majority of conflict motions are filed as a result of past disagreements or relationships between a defense lawyer and prosecutor.

“It’s not surprising that [Willis’] office didn’t think it could be a problem because this doesn’t fit the normal pattern that attorneys are looking for,” he said.

According to the evidence Acevedo has seen during the hearings, the issue was a “slip up,” and he stated that Willis, Wade, and other witnesses have provided strong refutations of the defense’s claims thus far.

Defending herself against the charges, Willis said to defense lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, who filed the motion, “You lied” when she took the stand during the hearings last week. “.”.

“You believe I’m being tried. These defendants are on trial for allegedly attempting to rig an election in 2020. Despite your best efforts to have me on trial, I’m not,” Willis stated in his testimony on Thursday.

Before the judge broke up the heated testimony, Willis’s accusations were contested by Merchant and Steve Sadow, Trump’s attorney.

Furthermore, according to Willis, Wade and she didn’t begin dating until 2022, following his hiring by the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.

Even though the District Attorney’s position put her in the public eye, Cummings said it was a smart move for her to take a stand and address the accusations. According to the testimony he has seen thus far, Willis and the DA’s office are doing a good job refuting the defense’s allegations of a conflict of interest.

He said, “I don’t see any evidence that contradicted her claim. The key question is financial benefit.”.

Nathan Wade, the Special Prosecutor for Fulton County, provides testimony during a hearing in the State of Georgia v. On February 15, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia, Donald John Trump is seen at the Fulton County Courthouse. Credit: Getty Images/Alyssa Pointer.

If the judge does remove Willis from the case, Acevedo said, there will be a lengthy delay as a result of the legal process to determine which Georgia prosecutorial office would take over the case.

He said, “It might end the case officially but practically.”.

Acevedo predicted that Trump and the co-defendants’ attorneys would continue to bring up the matter in press conferences, interviews, and other media appearances, even if the judge rejects the motion. He acknowledged that there is a chance that the controversy surrounding Willis and Wade’s relationship will fizzle out due to the constantly shifting media landscape.

The charges of ethics violations and the related court proceedings, according to Acevedo, will be taken into consideration when choosing the jury for the Trump trial.

“You’ll need to screen applicants based on a few additional concerns. It is necessary to assess whether people have a lower opinion of the prosecution due to the allegations, but it is equally important to assess whether people have a lower opinion of the defense due to the manner in which Willis was questioned, according to Acevedo.

Acevedo predicted that going forward, the Fulton County DA’s office and other prosecuting offices will broaden their definition of possible conflicts of interest in response to Willis’ ethics case.

“District attorney offices ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that there are no distractions,” he stated.

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