Saturday, March 16, 2024

Fani Willis is not thrown out on her....

 The country was waiting for a decision from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on whether District Attorney Fani Willis would be removed from the Trump election conspiracy case in Georgia. That order reflecting the judge’s decision came in a classic Friday afternoon news dump. To make a long story short, as you’ve probably heard, Willis has not been removed from the case as Trump and his allies had hoped. 

The longer version is that McAfee ruled that Willis could stay on the case if Nathan Wade, the investigator with whom she allegedly had what is euphemistically called “an intimate relationship,” was removed from the case. Wade promptly submitted his resignation after the order was handed down. 

To back up a bit, lawyers for Michael Roman, one of the defendants in the racketeering case, alleged that Willis’s sexual relationship with Wade constituted a conflict of interest. While Willis did admit the affair, how her behavior affected the election case was always a bit tenuous and speculative. Now it seems that Willis’s misconduct did not meet the grounds for removal from the case. 

But Willis did not emerge unscathed. A bruising public hearing became national news and Willis and Wade came across as shady and possibly dishonest about how long their affair had continued and whether Willis had benefitted financially from hiring Wade. The two argued that the expenses on their romantic trips had been “roughly divided equally” and records showed that Wade’s rate for legal work was “a relatively low amount by metro Atlanta standards.”

In the order, Judge McAfee wrote, Willis and Wade’s “testimony withstood direct contradiction, was corroborated by other evidence (for example, her payment of airfare for two on the 2022 Miami trip, and was not so incredible as to be unbelievable.”

McAfee also dryly noted, “Defendants argue that the financial arrangement created an incentive to prolong the case, but in fact, there is no indication that the District Attorney is delaying anything.”

It seems to be the defense that is interested in delaying the process. 

In the end, the defense was not able to prove that Willis had broken the law or that her actions affected her ability to objectively prosecute Donald Trump and his codefendants. The dots were never convincingly connected under the law to prove that even if the two lovers did share expenses that it would affect the fairness of the trial. 

The judge did have strong words for Willis in his order (which can be read in full online here), noting that there was the appearance of impropriety in her sexual relationship with a subordinate and the sloppy accounting of their shared expenses. 

“Reasonable questions remain about whether the District Attorney and her hand-selected lead SADA [Special Assistant District Attorney] testified truthfully about the timing of their relationship,” McAfee conceded, but continues, “Ultimately, dismissal of the indictment is not the appropriate remedy to adequately dissipate the financial cloud of impropriety and potential untruthfulness here.”

In other words, Willis and Wade were sleazy and may be lying, but the evidence didn’t confirm that their sleaziness would affect the trial. 

The order also addresses forensic misconduct, the public statements that Willis made about the trial, and her claims of racism. The judge called Willis’s remarks “legally improper” but said that they did not cross the line that would require Willis’s disqualification or would prevent a fair trial. 

The bottom line here is that Fani Willis is probably not a good person and her behavior was unprofessional and unethical, but she wasn’t so far out of line that it destroyed the case or her ability to prosecute it. If being a bad person precluded lawyers from doing their jobs, the legal system would be paralyzed. 

The interesting and ironic thing is that people on the side of the defense who are up in arms over Fani Willis and Nathan Wade’s lack of ethics and morals are using the DA’s corruption as a cudgel to try to defend Donald Trump and his associates from even greater charges of corruption. Which is worse? Engaging in an extramarital affair and lying about it or trying to steal an election and lying about it? 

I don’t blame the lawyers. It’s their job to offer their client the best defense they can. 

I do blame the people who think that Willis’s actions somehow invalidate Trump’s crimes. They do no such thing. Regardless of what Willis and Wade did, Trump and his cohorts need to be held accountable for their actions. 

But Willis and Wade do underscore the truth that neither side is innocent. Both Republicans and the Democrats have corrupt and self-serving officials in their midst. For too many public officials on both sides, it really is a racket. 

A further irony is that Willis had her day in court - just as Donald Trump will eventually - and now will face the same test that Trump supporters have advocated for the former president. The voters will determine Willis’s fate. Maybe Fulton County voters will have had enough of Willis’s bad behavior and send her packing at her next election. 

Or maybe they won’t. Maybe Fulton County voters will rehire Willis because it’s a Democratic stronghold and she is an incumbent with the letter “D” after her name. 

If that’s the case, are they really any worse than the Republicans who are determined to return Donald Trump to office despite the overwhelming evidence of his complicity in much greater crimes?

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