A blockbuster hearing with details of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade will go forward Thursday after the presiding judge chose not to immediately quash subpoenas for their testimony.
But the hearing revealed a possible new hurdle for Willis: that county administrators have not turned over key documents subpoenaed by Ashleigh Merchant, attorney for former Trump White House aide Michael Roman, one of the 19 defendants charged in the county’s sweeping election interference and racketeering case with the former president.
Willis said in filings and in front of an Atlanta church audience that Wade was paid as much as other special prosecutors. Merchant is seeking employment records to potentially refute that assertion. Records released by the district attorney’s office to date show that Wade has billed more than half a million dollars to the county for work on the case.
Employment contracts for special prosecutor Anna Green Cross and others that Merchant demanded are not in the possession of county government records administrators, said Shalanda MJ Miller, Fulton County’s custodian of records, in a hearing Monday. Neither are two invoices for work done on the Trump prosecution that Merchant said had been paid.
Superior court judge Scott McAfee dismissed questions at the preliminary hearing Monday about whether Wade was qualified to be appointed as a prosecutor on the high-profile racketeering case. Regardless of his experience – or lack thereof – as a prosecutor, “as long as a lawyer has a heartbeat and a bar card”, Wade’s appointment is a matter of the district attorney’s discretion, McAfee said.
But the legal question about whether a personal relationship between the two leads to a conflict from personal enrichment requires an evidentiary hearing, he said. “The state has admitted that a relationship existed.”
Roman and Merchant have raised allegations of an improper relationship as they seek to disqualify Wade and Willis as prosecutors on the Trump case, and for the charges to be dropped. In filings and in court, Willis’ office described the accusations as speculative and baseless.
“The defence is not bringing you facts. The defence is not bringing you the law. The defence is bringing you gossip,” said Fulton County special prosecutor Anna Green Cross. Willis does not stand to financially benefit from prosecuting the case, she said, and even if the allegations made by Merchant are true, they are an insufficient legal basis to remove the district attorney and her appointees from the case.
Thursday’s hearing in McAfee’s courtroom will hinge on testimony by Atlanta attorney Terrence Bradley, a business associate of Wade’s who previously represented him as his divorce lawyer. Willis, Wade and a host of other potential witnesses subpoenaed by Merchant filed motions for those subpoenas to be quashed – for McAfee to rule that their testimony would be unnecessary.
McAfee said he would consider those motions more closely after hearing Bradley’s testimony.