Though the judge made clear he had not decided whether there is any merit to the allegations, his decision was a blow to prosecutors who had hoped he would call off the entire thing. Anna Cross, a deputy for Willis who has handled key proceedings in state and federal court, said the allegations against Willis amounted to “gossip” meant to cause a “spectacle” that had no legal basis. Even if the allegations of financial impropriety were proven, Cross said, they would have no bearing on the criminal case against Trump and his co-defendants related to their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.
“This is a serious case, these are serious charges. Your honor’s been running a serious courtroom,” Cross said, adding, “The defense is bringing you gossip.”
The judge wasn’t immediately persuaded, however, and indicated that the allegations could result in disqualification — especially if prosecutors lied about when the relationship started.
McAfee’s ruling sustains, for at least a few more days, a spotlight on the personal life of the Atlanta-area district attorney whose national profile has skyrocketed amid her investigation and prosecution of the former president. Willis has suggested in public comments that the focus on her relationship with Wade is racist.
Defense attorneys have denied that accusation and have argued that Willis’ out-of-court remarks responding to the allegations are inappropriate “extrajudicial” statements.
The remarkable proceeding stems from a
Jan. 8 filing by former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, one of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the sprawling racketeering case. Roman’s lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, alleged that Willis and Wade have been romantically involved for several years and benefited financially from their decisions in the case. She has also claimed their romance began before Wade joined Willis’ team.
Willis and Wade
acknowledged in court papers this month that they entered a “personal relationship” in addition to their professional relationship and friendship. But they rejected the allegations that the nature of their relationship had any bearing on the case. They said they have violated no ethics rules, and they denied they have been improperly enriched by their work on the case. They also said that Wade joined Willis’ team before the relationship turned romantic.
Shortly after Merchant’s allegations, McAfee set a Feb. 15 hearing to hear evidence. Merchant is seeking to force Willis and Wade to testify at that hearing.
Though McAfee rejected the state’s effort to cancel the hearing, he agreed that he won’t force Willis, Wade or others in her office to testify until after hearing from witnesses called by Merchant. Merchant has said those witnesses will help substantiate her allegations against them.
Cross called the efforts to subpoena the prosecutors an “abuse of the subpoena power.”
McAfee said he would not permit redundant or gratuitous evidence and attempt to keep Thursday’s hearing focused on the specific allegations of a financial conflict.
Cross said the state would present voluminous evidence undermining the allegations against Willis and Wade and that she would be “shocked” if the defense team could back up some of the allegations about their relationship.
“There’s just no way to make that claim in good faith given the record that’s before the court now,” Cross said.
Merchant, however, said she will be able to show Wade and Willis’ relationship turned romantic before she brought him onto the Trump case in November 2021. If she can show that, it would mean Willis and Wade lied to the judge when they said in court papers last week that they did not enter a romantic relationship until 2022.
Cross said the district attorney’s office intends to call Willis’ father, John Floyd, as a witness at Thursday’s hearing. Cross said Floyd would testify about Willis’ living arrangements to counter allegations that Willis and Wade “co-habitated” during the Trump investigation.
The hearing also confirmed that Wade has refused to accept service of a subpoena issued by Merchant.