(Bloomberg) -- Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed an emergency motion Thursday to block a demand that she testify in the divorce case of Nathan Wade, a private attorney she hired to handle the election-conspiracy charges in Georgia against Donald Trump and 18 allies.
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Wade, who’s working as a special prosecutor, is at the center of a legal firestorm. Trump co-defendant Michael Roman accused him of having a secret romance with Willis, taking vacations with her, and earning more than $650,000 in taxpayer money in the past two years. On Thursday, a judge in the Trump case set a Feb. 15 hearing on the matter.
Wade filed for divorce from his wife of 26 years, Joycelyn, a day after Willis hired him in 2021. The alleged relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade could take center stage in the rancorous divorce proceedings, according to sealed records reviewed by Bloomberg News. Joycelyn Wade subpoenaed Willis to testify Jan. 23 in a case in which the judge has cited Nathan Wade for contempt for failing to turn over financial information.
But Willis fired back Thursday, saying that the subpoena “is being sought in an attempt to harass and damage her professional reputation,” according to a motion filed by her private lawyer. Willis is seeking to quash the subpoena.
“Joycelyn Wade has conspired with interested parties in the criminal Election Interference Case to use the civil discovery process to annoy, embarrass, and oppress” the district attorney, Willis attorney Cinque Axam said in a filing.
Willis said Nathan Wade filed for divorce on the grounds their marriage was “irretrievably broken” and that his wife agreed in a filing four weeks later. Because the “the concept of fault is not at issue,” Willis can’t provide information “relevant to granting or denying the divorce,” according to the filing.
The filing contained another explosive allegation — that the marriage had been broken as early as 2017 and that Joycelyn Wade “confessed to an adulterous relationship” with her husband’s “longtime friend.”
In a statement, Joycelyn Wade’s lawyers said: “We aim to help Ms. Wade resolve her divorce fairly and privately, but apparently Fulton County DA Fani Willis would prefer to use her public platform. Clearly, this matter is personal for her.”
Joycelyn Wade’s lawyers said they will respond in writing through the court, which has scheduled a Jan. 31 hearing on whether to unseal the case.
An attorney for Nathan Wade didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
In the Trump criminal case, Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will hear arguments next month on Roman’s request to dismiss the indictment or remove Wade, Willis and the DA’s office from the case. Trump allies have used the embarrassing details to attack Willis, who brought one of four indictments against Trump as he seeks the Republican nomination to challenge President Joe Biden for the White House.
Lawyers for Joycelyn Wade, a stay-at-home mother for 20 years, have complained in court filings that her estranged husband “knowingly obstructed” her efforts to obtain information about his finances amid the divorce.
When Nathan Wade didn’t comply with an order to turn over information, a judge cited him for contempt on Aug. 17 in Cobb County Superior Court. In a Nov. 20 filing, Joycelyn Wade’s lawyers said he hadn’t disclosed enough information about his taxes, bank accounts and credit cards for their expert to evaluate.
Wade “has provided nearly nothing to defendant for her support and survival as her own bank account is often in overdraft,” even as he earned nearly $700,000 from Fulton County and ran his own law firm, her lawyers wrote in a Dec. 7 filing.
None of the divorce filings reviewed by Bloomberg mention Willis by name. In the criminal case, the motion filed by Roman offers no proof that she had an affair with Wade. Judge McAfee on Thursday gave her until Feb. 2 to respond.
On Sunday, Willis defended herself at an Atlanta church. She didn’t name Wade, but she praised him as a “superstar, a great friend and a great lawyer.” Willis and Wade are Black. She said her critics were “playing the race card” by singling out the Black special prosecutor but not two White prosecutors she also hired for the case.
A 52-year-old divorced mother of two adult daughters, she described “the loneliness” of being a Black woman serving as a big city district attorney. Willis said she’s also been targeted with death threats and racist slurs.
‘It Looks Terrible’
The Wade case, which has drawn national attention, is a “once-in-a-lifetime kind of situation,” said Atlanta divorce attorney Randall Kessler.
“At first blush, it looks terrible,” said Kessler, who’s not involved in the case.
In her Jan. 8 motion, Roman attorney Ashleigh Merchant claims Willis had an “impermissible and irreparable conflict of interest” by appointing Wade while they had a romantic relationship. Merchant claims they traveled together to Florida, the Caribbean and Napa Valley, California, even as Wade earned far more than other prosecutors in the office. The arrangement may have defrauded the public of Willis’s honest services, she claims.
In her Thursday court filing, Willis alleged that Merchant filed her motion just hours after Joycelyn Wade’s attorneys attempted to serve her with notice of the Jan. 23 deposition. The notice didn’t spell out how the testimony would be recorded or provide a list of documents and information sought, according to the Willis filing.
Merchant said in a statement Thursday: “Ms. Willis alleges that her deposition is being sought in an attempt to harass and damage her professional reputation. Why would her truthful testimony risk damaging her reputation?”
The filing is “just another attempt to avoid having to directly answer the important questions Mr. Roman has raised,” Merchant said. “She appears to be doing everything she can to avoid having to account for inconvenient and difficult facts.”
In an earlier interview, Merchant said she didn’t expect the reaction sparked by her motion.
“I definitely did not expect it to create the firestorm that it did,” she said. “I knew it was important when I filed it. But it’s definitely become a lot more than I ever imagined.”
(Updates with emergency motion filed by Fani Willis, comment from Joycelyn Wade. An earlier version corrected the spelling Joycelyn Wade’s attorneys.)
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