Trump, co-defendants ask Georgia judge for permission to appeal Fani Willis ruling

Former President Trump and seven of his co-defendants in the Georgia 2020 election interference case on Monday asked a judge to give them permission to appeal a recent ruling allowing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) to remain on the case if the top prosecutor with whom she had a relationship was kicked off.

In a nine-page joint motion, the defendants asked Judge Scott McAfee for a certificate of immediate review that would allow them to appeal McAfee’s order to a higher state court before the sweeping racketeering case heads to trial.

Trump and a dozen allies are accused of joining a criminal enterprise bent on returning the former president to the White House after he lost the 2020 election. He and the co-defendants who joined the motion have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face.

Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead attorney in Georgia, said in a statement that the ruling is “ripe” for review.

“In its Order, the Court found that District Attorney Willis’ actions had created an appearance of impropriety and an ‘odor of mendacity’ that lingers in this case, as well as the continuing possibility that ‘an outsider could reasonably think that District Attorney Willis is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences,'” reads the motion.

“Despite this, the Court declined to disqualify District [Attorney] Willis, finding that eliminating only the Special Assistant District Attorney would cure the lingering appearance of impropriety,” the motion continues.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime Trump ally Rudy Giuliani joined the appeal effort, in addition to defendants Robert Cheeley, Michael Roman, David Shafer, Harrison Floyd and Cathleen Latham.

McAfee ruled Friday that Willis’s once-romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade constituted an appearance of a conflict of interest in the case. He gave the pair a choice: either Wade or Willis must depart from the historic prosecution.

“[T]he established record now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team — an appearance that must be removed through the State’s selection of one of two options. The Defendants’ motions are therefore granted in part,” McAfee wrote in his 23-page ruling.

The romance, unearthed in a January court filing by Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, sidetracked the Trump prosecution for more than a month. Over three days of hearings, defense attorneys attempted to show that Willis hired her romantic partner to prosecute the former president and benefited from his appointment via vacations they took together.

McAfee’s ruling was widely regarded as a middle ground between the two sides, issuing a warning that Willis’s conduct was improper while still allowing her a path forward on the case.

Wade departed from the case Friday after the ruling called for him to do so, writing in a resignation letter that he was stepping aside “in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public and to move this case forward as quickly as possible.”

If McAfee allows Trump and his co-defendants to appeal his decision, the defense will have 10 days to apply for a discretionary review by the appellate court, though grants of such appeals are rare, according to Melissa Redmon, director of the University of Georgia’s Prosecutorial Justice Program.

A trial date has not yet been set in the Georgia case, but if the appeals court does take up the matter, it could further delay the prosecution.

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