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Georgia appeals court temporarily halts Trump's 2020 election case in Fulton County

Appeals court to review Willis-Trump decision
Appeals court to review decision that kept DA Fani Willis on Trump case 04:11

Washington — The Georgia Court of Appeals temporarily halted proceedings in the 2020 election case involving former President Donald Trump while it reviews a trial judge's ruling that allowed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to continue prosecuting the case.

The stay issued by the court applies only to Trump and the eight co-defendants who sought to have Willis and her office removed from the case because of a romantic relationship she had with Nathan Wade, who served as a special prosecutor. 

A panel of three judges on the appeals court is tentatively set to hear arguments in the disqualification bid Oct. 4. The case is being heard in its August term, and a decision must be rendered by March 14, 2025. The pause in proceedings makes it highly unlikely a trial will be held before the November election, when Trump will face off against President Biden for a second term in the White House. Willis' office declined to comment.

Steve Sadow, the lead attorney for Trump's Georgia legal team, said in a statement the appeals court "properly stayed all proceedings against President Trump in the trial court," pending the appeal.

Trump and a group of his co-defendants in March appealed the decision from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee that allowed Willis to remain on the case if Wade resigned, which he did. 

The disqualification effort has derailed proceedings in the Fulton County case for months while McAfee held evidentiary hearings to determine whether to grant the request by Trump and his allies to remove Willis and her office from the prosecution. The motion, brought by longtime GOP operative Michael Roman and later joined by the former president and seven others, accused Willis of having an improper romantic relationship with Wade and financially benefitting from it.

Willis and Wade admitted they were romantically involved, but said the relationship began after Wade was hired as special prosecutor in November 2021. It ended in the summer of 2023, they said. The two lawyers also denied that Willis financially benefited from the relationship and testified that they split the costs of expenses from trips they took together.

While rejecting the request to disqualify Willis, McAfee issued a scathing rebuke of the district attorney's conduct. The judge said that while he couldn't conclusively determine when the prosecutors' relationship turned romantic, "an odor of mendacity remains." McAfee criticized Willis for a "tremendous lapse in judgment."

Trump faces 10 charges in the sprawling racketeering case brought by Fulton County prosecutors and has pleaded not guilty. The indictment returned by a grand jury last August alleges Trump and 18 others mounted an unlawful scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia and keep Trump in power. Four of the former president's co-defendants have pleaded guilty after reaching plea deals with prosecutors. 

The pause in proceedings in Georgia means that when voters cast their ballots for president in November, only one of the four criminal cases involving Trump will have gone to trial. Trump was convicted last week of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in New York, making him the first former president to be found guilty of a crime. He and his lawyers have vowed to appeal the conviction, kicking off a process that could take months or years to reach a conclusion. Trump is set to be sentenced July 11.

Federal prosecutions brought in Washington, D.C., and South Florida have been either halted or are proceeding slowly. Trump was charged with four counts related to an alleged scheme to subvert the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election and 40 counts stemming from his handling of sensitive government records after leaving the White House and efforts to obstruct the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Proceedings in Washington have been paused while the Supreme Court considers whether Trump is immune from federal criminal charges for conduct involving allegedly official acts. A judge in South Florida separately delayed a trial there indefinitely because of pending pre-trial motions and other issues.

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