Troubles lie in wait for the Georgia district attorney

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Crucially, Judge Scott McAfee didn’t actually conclude Willis had perjured herself, nor that she received a material financial benefit from hiring or dating Wade.
However, he said reasonable people “could easily be left to wonder” whether Willis resumed a romantic relationship with Wade or was receiving financial benefits unless one of them stepped aside.
Wade resigned later on Friday.
The Georgia case alleges that Trump and 18 co-defendants — four of whom have taken plea deals — participated in a multi-pronged conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election.
While Willis can still prosecute the case following the ruling, she may well face challenges to her law license at the State Bar of Georgia — even if experts don’t expect those challenges to succeed based on existing evidence.
She could also have to deal with other state regulators.
Even before the decision, a conservative group asked the State Bar to open disciplinary proceedings against both Willis and Wade.
“She survived today, she survived this opinion, but this is not going away,” Andrew George, a trial lawyer and adjunct professor at the Georgetown Law Center, told USA TODAY within hours of the ruling.
Ethics challenges likely to comeMcAfee himself alluded to the possibility of further repercussions in his Friday decision, which criticized Willis’ “tremendous lapse in judgment” and “unprofessional manner.”
“Other forums or sources of authority such as the General Assembly, the Georgia State Ethics Commission, the State Bar of Georgia, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, or the voters of Fulton County may offer feedback on any unanswered questions that linger,” McAfee wrote.
That statement, coupled with his “odor of mendacity” comment, was “an invitation” for someone to bring up an ethics charge for lying, Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor, said on CNN.
“I can’t imagine that somebody won’t take up that invitation — it just takes a group of lawyers to file an ethics complaint,” Goodman said.
Chandelle Summer, a Georgia lawyer who has worked as both a prosecutor and public defender in the state, told USA TODAY she expects bar complaints against Willis will be coming in light of the case’s high profile.
“It’s such a politically charged case, I don’t think they’re going to leave any stone unturned,” Summer said.
Within hours of McAfee’s ruling, there were calls to go after Willis’ law license.
“If it were proven that she lied under oath, I think that would be grounds for disbarment,” George said.
“However, that would probably require more proof than currently exists.”
Data from Wade’s cell phone, introduced by Trump’s legal team, showed Wade was in the vicinity of the condo Willis was staying in 35 times the year before Willis and Wade acknowledged a romantic relationship, including twice late at night.
But Willis testified that Wade visited the condo before they were romantically involved.
McAfee said the cell phone data didn’t prove when the romantic relationship started.
Summer expected the State Bar to rely on McAfee’s opinion, which found the appearance of impropriety in the case, but not the existence of an actual conflict of interest.
“It could be a temporary suspension, it could be a citation, essentially, a listing on a naughty list, if you will,” George said.
“It very well may not happen to her, but if she were to face any kind of negative consequence from the State Bar, that would be potentially very damaging to her,” George said.
However, Willis and Wade fought back against claims of wrongdoing.
They both testified that she repaid him in cash for roughly her share of expenses for shared vacations that were shown on his credit card.
And McAfee concluded Willis wasn’t motivated to prosecute the case by wanting to get money from Wade.
While the defense teams argued financial kickbacks could be an incentive for Willis to prolong the case, McAfee noted prosecutors asked for a trial within six months of the indictment.
Anthony Michael Kreis, a Georgia State University law professor, was skeptical that Willis would face any repercussions as part of the State Bar’s disciplinary process.
Other investigations, election coming, appealBeyond any potential issues with the State Bar, Willis faces threats of unpleasantness — or worse — from other authorities in Georgia.
She is already under investigation by the Georgia Senate, which solicited testimony earlier this month from the attorney in the Georgia election case who brought the original motion for Willis to be disqualified.
Georgia’s governor also signed a law Wednesday to provide legislative fixes to a new commission with the power to sanction and remove state prosecutors.
The commission could eventually look into Willis.
Although such investigations could bring further political baggage for Willis, Kreis didn’t expect her to take any major hits from them.
“Unless there’s just incredibly inculpatory evidence to suggest that she received some kind of kickback, I just don’t s

Legal experts said that given the difficulties she will likely continue to face, Georgia DA Fani Willis might be best served by stepping aside from her prosecution of former President Donald Trump following a harsh ruling that characterized her testimony regarding her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade as having a “odor of mendacity.”.

Importantly, Judge Scott McAfee did not actually find that Willis had lied on her own resume or that dating or employing Wade had brought her a significant financial advantage. Still, he claimed that unless one of them stepped up, reasonable people “could easily be left to wonder” if Willis was still receiving financial benefits from Wade or if they were once again in a romantic relationship. Wade gave in later on Friday.

According to the Georgia case, Trump engaged in a multifaceted conspiracy with 18 other defendants, four of whom accepted plea deals, to rig the 2020 presidential election.

Even though experts don’t think Willis’s challenges to her law license at the State Bar of Georgia will be successful based on the evidence currently in circulation, she may still be able to prosecute the case in light of the ruling. Moreover, she might have to deal with additional state regulators. A conservative organization requested that the State Bar initiate disciplinary actions against Wade and Willis even prior to the ruling.

Within hours of the decision, trial lawyer and adjunct professor Andrew George of the Georgetown Law Center told USA TODAY, “She survived today, she survived this opinion, but this is not going away.”.

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“Her presentation and Mr. Wade’s presentation during this process were not convincing,” George remarked, adding that the scrutiny would only intensify.

There will probably be ethical dilemmas.

In his Friday ruling, McAfee himself hinted at the potential for additional consequences, denouncing Willis’ “astonishing error in judgment” and “disrespectful behavior.”. “.”.

“Other forums or sources of authority, like the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, the Georgia State Ethics Commission, the State Bar of Georgia, or the General Assembly, may offer feedback on any unanswered questions that linger,” McAfee wrote.

According to law professor Ryan Goodman of New York University, that statement along with his comment about the “odor of mendacity” was “an invitation” for someone to file an ethics complaint for lying, as he stated on CNN.

It only takes a group of lawyers to file an ethics complaint, so I can’t imagine that someone won’t accept that invitation, Goodman said.

Because of the high profile of the case, Chandelle Summer, a Georgia attorney who has served as the state’s prosecutor and public defender, told USA TODAY she anticipates bar complaints against Willis.

Summer stated, “I don’t think they’re going to leave any stone unturned because it’s such a politically charged case.”.

Willis’s law license was being targeted for revocation within hours of McAfee’s decision.

Glenn Beck, a conservative commentator, wrote on X, “For Fani Willis to KEEP HER JOB on the Trump case, or even keep her law license after GPS data clearly showed she lied is INSANE.”.

Disbarment is improbable given the available data.

Although the evidence to date hasn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Willis lied while testifying, experts said she is unlikely to be disbarred.

George stated, “I believe there would be grounds for disbarment if it were proven that she lied under oath.”. But that would probably require more evidence than we have at the moment. “.

Wade was in the area of the condo Willis was renting 35 times the year prior to Willis and Wade admitting to a romantic relationship, including twice late at night, according to data from Wade’s cell phone that Trump’s legal team presented. However, Willis attested that Wade paid a visit to the condo prior to their romantic involvement.

Cell phone data, according to McAfee, did not establish the beginning of the romantic relationship.

“Neither side was able to conclusively establish by a preponderance of the evidence when the relationship evolved into a romantic one, even after taking into account the proffered cellphone testimony from Defendant Trump and all of the other evidence,” McAfee wrote.

Summer anticipated that the State Bar would depend on McAfee’s assessment, which determined that there was a case of apparent impropriety but not a real conflict of interest.

“Until they can demonstrate that the relationship started before he was hired and that they lied about it—unless they can prove perjury—the State Bar is probably not going to get involved in this case in terms of prosecuting Fani Willis or Nathan Wade,” Summer claimed.

Less severe penalties are feasible.

George pointed out that given the allegations made against Willis for her actions—which include not only perjury but also claims that she accepted money kickbacks from Wade after hiring him for a lucrative job—the State Bar might penalize her less severely.

George explained, “It might be a citation, it might be a temporary suspension—basically, a listing on a naughty list, if you will.”. George stated, “She may not experience it, but it would be potentially very damaging to her if she faced any kind of negative consequence from the State Bar.”.

Wade and Willis, however, retaliated against the accusations of misconduct. According to their respective testimonies, she reimbursed him in cash for the portion of the shared vacation costs that were displayed on his credit card.

McAfee came to the conclusion that Willis’ desire to obtain money from Wade was not the driving force behind his prosecution of the case. Though the defense teams contended that Willis might be motivated to drag out the case by receiving financial kickbacks, McAfee pointed out that the prosecution had requested a trial within six months of the indictment.

Law professor Anthony Michael Kreis of Georgia State University doubted that Willis would suffer any consequences as part of the State Bar’s disciplinary procedure. According to him, perjury in particular is “really hard to prove,” especially when attempting to define and classify an adult relationship. He told USA TODAY that a lawyer is almost never disciplined by the bar without either a criminal conviction or an accusation of mismanaging client funds.

“It’s really hard to prove anything with any degree of accuracy, whether it’s a relationship, dating, or just flirting—that’s really something that’s so subjective and beholden in the eye of the beholder,” Kreis said.

Additional inquiries, upcoming election, and appeal.

Apart from possible problems with the State Bar, Willis also faces threats from other Georgian authorities that could be unpleasant or worse. The Georgia Senate has already opened an investigation into her and requested testimony from the lawyer who filed the initial motion to disqualify Willis in the Georgia election case earlier this month.

A law that gives a new commission the authority to approve or disapprove state prosecutors was also signed into law by Georgia’s governor on Wednesday. At some point, the commission may investigate Willis.

Kreis didn’t anticipate that Willis would suffer any significant consequences from the inquiries, despite the possibility that they would add to her political burden.

Kreis remarked, “I just don’t see anything really coming out of that unless there’s just incredibly inculpatory evidence to suggest that she received some kind of kickback.”.

In the largely Democratic county of Fulton, Willis will also compete in a primary election in May against a former prosecutor. Should she win, she will advance to the general election in November. To maintain the allegations, those will be added to the forums.

Before the case is fully resolved at the trial level, defendants in the election case may elect to pursue the matter further in the courts by filing an appeal. To do that, you would need to request a “certificate of immediate review” from McAfee. “.

Summer stated, “I believe the judge could very well grant a certificate of immediate review because it’s such a significant case.”.

Kreis estimated that McAfee would grant that instant appeal with a 50/50 chance, but he believed the appeals court was unlikely to take up the matter later.

Kreis stated, “There is a very slim chance that this will be taken up on appeal because Judge McAfee’s opinion is written in such a way that is thorough and detailed enough, and the findings of fact are sufficiently in the DA’s favor here.”.

Shallis take herself out of the picture?

In order to prevent any ethical issues with Willis from tainting the case, former Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann stated on MSNBC that Willis should voluntarily recuse herself.

He remarked, “I’m not sure if she has it in her, but I think she needs to declare, ‘I’m going to designate a chief assistant who’s going to oversee this case.'”. “It is evident that she lacks credibility with this judge, and numerous other Georgia regulators will raise these concerns, which the judge has invited them to do. “.

Trump and Rudy Giuliani are among the defendants who face charges of either writing or making false statements or of plotting to do so. Charges include fabricating an election certificate in an attempt to sway Georgia’s presidential election results, among other aspects of the purported conspiracy.

Taking particular note of those charges, George said that Willis is not in a position to be the head of the prosecution.

“It is extremely difficult to prevent an appearance of improper behavior when the prosecution is led by an individual whose integrity was deemed to be questionable by the court,” George stated.

By raising doubts about whether the entire DA’s office must withdraw, the former recusal could cause more legal issues for the Georgia case than it would resolve, according to Kreis.

“It would essentially acknowledge that her office’s authority has been compromised due to a conflict she had to leave,” Kreis said.

Kreis suggested that she could also subtly assign authority to another person to manage daily decisions and make all the major decisions, all the while remaining involved in the case.

Kreis suggested that “that might be a middle ground that she could achieve without running the risk of additional questions about the legal authority for her to recuse herself.”.

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