Amicus Briefs April 12, 2024

Opposition to Co-defendants Michael Roman, Donald Trump and Others’ Motion to Dismiss and Disqualify DA Fani Willis from the Fulton County, GA Election Interference Case


Issue Areas

On February 5, 2024, the States United Democracy Center filed an amicus brief alongside Amy Lee Copeland, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of GA in the Superior Court of Fulton County. The brief, which was filed on behalf of a group of prominent legal and ethics experts, opposed the dismissal of the grand jury indictment and the disqualification of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case.

On January 8, 2024, defendant Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign official, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him. Roman argued that the charges were unconstitutional. In the filing, Roman alleged that DA Willis improperly hired and had an inappropriate personal relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade—a prominent figure in the prosecution of the election interference case. After the motion was filed, co-defendants including former President Trump joined it.

The amicus brief argues that the case against DA Willis does not meet key principles of the law of disqualification in Georgia. It outlines a few key points, including:

  • Disqualification imposes significant costs, leading courts to view motions for disqualification skeptically. Disqualifying DA Willis from this case is costly – the delay to get lawyers up to speed and the loss of counsel knowledge could undermine the strength of the case against these anti-democratic defendants and give an advantage to the defense.
  • In all but the most egregious cases, prosecutors are trusted to fulfill their duties despite competing personal interests. The mere presence of a conflicting personal interest does not require disqualification. Prosecutors are entrusted by the public to make prosecutorial decisions in the public’s interest and not allow personal intimate relationships to interfere. For example, Georgia courts have previously refused to disqualify attorneys just because they were married to someone else working on the case. DA Willis’s personal relationship is not indicative of her acting for her own personal interest regarding the election interference case and does not warrant disqualification.
  • Disqualifying a district attorney in Georgia involves unique constitutional considerations that weigh against disqualification. DA Willis is an elected official. The people of Fulton County voted for DA Willis to represent their interests in all Fulton County Superior Court criminal cases. Disqualifying DA Willis based on the current arguments against her is not aligned with the Georgia Constitution.
  • The purpose of disqualification is to protect defendants’ due process rights. Other tools are available for misconduct that does not implicate fairness toward a defendant. Disqualification is meant to protect a defendant’s due process rights by limiting actions against the defendant based on “irrelevant or impermissible factors.” Prosecutor Wade’s alleged lack of experience and inappropriate hiring by defendant Roman does not reflect an infringement of the defendants’ due process rights.

On February 15, 2024, the court held an evidentiary hearing on the defendants’ motions to dismiss the indictment or disqualify DA Willis. The signers of the amicus argued that this hearing was unwarranted because disqualification remains unjustified, regardless of whether the facts alleged by the defendants are true or not.

On March 6, 2024, the original signers of the February amicus brief filed a supplement, to provide the court with a recommended standard when addressing the disqualification question. The brief argues that a mere “appearance of impropriety” does not warrant disqualification under Georgia law.

Latest Update

On March 15, 2024, Judge McAfee ruled that the defendants failed to show that DA Willis had a conflict of interest. His order also called for Special Assistant District Attorney Nathan Wade to leave the prosecution team, in order for DA Willis to continue with the case. Wade did so later that day. In his order, McAfee wrote, “Without sufficient evidence that the District Attorney acquired a personal stake in the prosecution, or that her financial arrangements had any impact on the case, the Defendants’ claims of an actual conflict must be denied.”

Trump and his co-defendants are attempting to appeal this decision. On March 20, 2024, Judge McAfee granted their motion for a certificate of immediate review, clearing the way for them to ask the Georgia Court of Appeals to hear their appeal.

On April 12, 2024, the same group of legal and ethics experts filed an additional amicus brief in the Court of Appeals, arguing that the court should not take the unusual step of accepting the appeal before the criminal trial occurs. In the brief, the signers highlight that an appeal now risks harming the public interest by unjustifiably delaying the case.

The Georgia Court of Appeals must decide whether it will grant the defendant’s application for immediate review by May 13.

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