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Georgia appeals court sets tentative Oct. 4 date to hear Trump appeal of Fani Willis ruling

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 has tentatively set arguments for Oct. 4 in a bid by former President Donald Trump and his allies to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office from the case involving an alleged effort to overturn the results of Georgia's 2020 presidential election.

The appeals court said in May that it would review a decision from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee that allowed Willis to continue prosecuting the case against Trump. Arguments will be heard by Judges Trenton Brown, Todd Markle and Benjamin Land.

The former president and eight of his co-defendants in the sprawling racketeering case brought by Willis' office had pushed for her to be disqualified because of a personal relationship she had with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. But McAfee denied the bid and said Willis and her office could continue their work on the case if Wade withdrew, which he did. Trump and a group of his co-defendants then appealed the decision

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in court in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, March 1, 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in court in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, March 1, 2024.  Alex Slitz/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The proceedings before the Georgia Court of Appeals will delay the start of any trial, and no date has been set for it to begin.

Steve Sadow, Trump's attorney in the Georgia case, confirmed that oral argument before the appeals court is tentatively set for Oct. 4.

"We look forward to presenting argument before Judges Brown, Markel, and Land on why this case should be dismissed and Fulton County DA Willis should be disqualified for the trial court's acknowledged 'odor of mendacity' misconduct in violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct," he said in a statement.

The former president faces 10 charges in Georgia, where he and more than a dozen of his allies were charged in what prosecutors allege was an unlawful scheme to overturn the state's results in the 2020 election. Trump and all 18 of his initial co-defendants pleaded not guilty, though four later accepted plea deals.

Proceedings were derailed earlier this year after one of those co-defendants, GOP operative Michael Roman, claimed Willis and Wade had an improper romantic relationship and alleged Willis financially benefited from it.

Roman claimed the relationship began before Wade was hired in November 2021 to work on the case involving Trump, and he sought to have Willis and her office disqualified and the charges dismissed. Trump and seven others joined Roman's motion claiming the prosecution was invalid and unconstitutional. 

Willis and Wade admitted they were romantically involved, but said their relationship began after Wade was brought on to the investigation and ended in the summer of 2023. They both also denied that Willis financially benefited from the relationship and said they split the costs associated with trips they took together.

McAfee issued his ruling rejecting the disqualification effort in mid-March and issued a scatching rebuke of Willis' conduct. The judge said that while he couldn't conclusively determine when the prosecutors' relationship turned romantic, "an odor of mendacity remains." He criticized Willis for a "tremendous lapse in judgment."

The appeal of the disqualification order opened the door for the district attorney's office to also appeal another recent ruling without getting approval from McAfee, in a maneuver known as a cross-appeal. In early March, McAfee dismissed six counts against the former president and five other co-defendants, finding the indictment does "contain all the essential elements of the crimes" but does not "allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of their commission." Of the six counts dismissed, Trump was charged with three. 

Trump has attempted to dismiss the indictment on numerous grounds, including that he is absolutely immune from prosecution and the charges violate the First Amendment. But McAfee in April denied the former president's request to toss out the charges on free speech grounds, which Trump has also appealed.

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