Atlanta! Please go take a cold shower! You are making the legal profession look like it’s sexy and fun, instead of soul sucking and so exhausting as to barely leave time for personal hygiene. Not since “LA Law” have the personal lives of lawyers seemed so fascinating as they do in the latest Fulton County RICO briefs.
(Look it up, kids. Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey were HOTTT.)
In a motion to dismiss filed last month, former Trump campaign fixer Mike Roman alleged that District Attorney Fani Willis is romantically involved with Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade. Wade is an outside attorney who was hired by her office and paid $700,000 for his work on the “Trump 19” case and the special purpose grand jury investigation which preceded it.
Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, alleged that Willis is financially dependent on — or at the very least, financially entangled with — Wade, and thus has a financial stake in her client’s conviction. Describing this as an insuperable conflict of interest, Merchant demanded at a minimum that Willis’s office be disqualified from the case.
In response, Willis took to the pulpit of a historic Black church on Martin Luther King weekend to denounce her critics as racist, while tacitly admitting the relationship. Lawyers for Trump seized on the speech to join Roman’s motion and accuse the prosecutor of fomenting “racial bias.”
Judge Scott McAfee scheduled a hearing for February 15 and ordered the DA to respond in writing by today. And respond she has, in a furious opposition motion signed by Willis fumes, Wade, and eight other prosecutors working on the case. In it, they accuse the defendants of “attempt[ing] to cobble together entirely unremarkable circumstances of Special Prosecutor Wade’s appointment with completely irrelevant allegations about his personal family life into a manufactured conflict of interest on the part of the District Attorney.”
“The motions are based on guesswork and public relations strategy, not legal argument,” the prosecutors fume.
In an attached affidavit, Wade admits that he and Willis have been involved since 2022, but he says they were not in a relationship at the time he was hired by her office in 2021. He claims that they do not live together, as some people have suggested, and are not financially dependent on each other for support. He also attempts to rebut allegations that he’s unqualified for the position, attaching numerous screenshots of professional accolades he’s received during his career.
Not content to defend against an attack they clearly view as below the belt, the prosecutors went on offense, including photographs of Merchant stumping for Wade in one of his judicial campaigns back in 2016, when she described him as “ethical” and vouched that he had “practiced in every area of the law that appears before the Superior Court bench.”
They go on to allege that the attorney for two of the remaining defendants is in a romantic relationship with counsel for Kenneth Chesebro, who pled out and is now a witness for the state.
“One who was ill-informed about the standard for attorney disqualification in Georgia might argue that the personal relationship between [the two lawyers] could rise to the level of a conflict given potential testimony by [Chesebro] inculpating [the remaining defendants],” they wrote acidly. “That, of course, would be an incorrect conclusion to draw.”
The motion also notes that Merchant strongly implied that proof of her claims could be found in Wade’s sealed divorce filings. But those filings were unsealed last week, and, while they make Wade look pretty terrible, they don’t provide further proof of the financial entanglement suggested in Roman’s brief:
Once the divorce filings were unsealed by court order on January 23, 2023, Defendant Roman has not supplemented his motion or provided any additional exhibits that would corroborate his motion for dismissal or disqualification, despite implying to this Court that an unidentified silver bullet lay within the then-sealed divorce file.
The DA concludes by asking the court to cancel the planned hearing on February 15, writing, “in light of the record evidence, no further factual development is necessary to deny the motions in their entirety.”
But Georgia defense attorney Andrew Fleischman, long a critic of this prosecution, is doubtful that this will be the end of the matter.
“If the factual allegations are important enough to refute with an affidavit, they are probably important enough to have a hearing,” he told ATL.
He was also dubious of the DA’s scorched earth tactics: “The tone of the filing, the mention of a disclosed relationship among defense attorneys, and the inclusion of pictures of Ashleigh Merchant are not things you would see in a typical filing.”
And meanwhile, Trump and his minions are making political hay out of the chaos.
“By going after the most high level person, and the Republican Nominee, she was able to get her “lover” much more money, almost a Million Dollars, than she would be able to get for the prosecution of any other person or individual,” Trump screamed on Truth Social. “THAT MEANS THAT THIS SCAM IS TOTALLY DISCREDITED & OVER!”
Well, it’s not over. But it’s certainly not looking like it’ll go forward before the election.
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she produces the Law and Chaos substack and podcast.