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Home Georgia Fani Willis has rejected the defense's attempt to appeal the decision that keeps her in charge of the Trump RICO case, stating that the applicants have failed in their bid

Fani Willis has rejected the defense's attempt to appeal the decision that keeps her in charge of the Trump RICO case, stating that the applicants have failed in their bid

“Displeasure with factual findings cannot be a reason for granting an appeal or overturning a trial court’s decision, and the application should be rejected.”

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Fani Willis, on the left; Donald Trump, inset on the right

Main image: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP); Inset right: Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of a UFC 299 mixed martial arts bout, March 10, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has requested an appeals court not to consider former President Donald Trump’s latest effort to have her removed from his racketeering (RICO) and election subversion case.

On Monday, the district attorney filed a 19-page reply brief asking the Georgia Court of Appeals to reject a defense effort seeking a review of the trial court judge’s recent decision to keep her in charge.

The state's filing states that the applicants' dissatisfaction with the trial court's proper application of established law is not based on any error, and they have failed to persuade the court to carry out interlocutory review.

The defense has been seeking to remove Willis and her office from the case since January, initially claiming that her romantic relationship with now-former lead prosecutor Nathan Wade created a conflict of interest due to pecuniary motives.

On March 15, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee partially granted the defense motion to disqualify but gave the prosecution the choice of which prosecutor had to go. The court’s order was based on a finding that the one-time romance between Willis and Wade resulted in “a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team.” Wade resigned hours later.

Now, the defendants insist the trial court's method of separating the legal issues was “plain legal error requiring reversal” — while basing their interlocutory appeal on the factual record McAfee established.

Willis, however, argues the factual record is actually on her side.

The state's filing argues that there was a factual basis for the trial court's well-explained rulings, and the applicants' insistence that error occurred amounts to no more than disagreement with the trial court's assessment of those facts.

Ultimately, McAfee said the defense had not shown that Willis obtained “a material financial benefit as a result of her decision to hire” Wade, or that the “financial gain flowing from her relationship” motivated Willis to prosecute and prolong the case.

The appeal application itself is premised on “forensic misconduct” allegations against Willis over her Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech at Big Bethel A.M.E. Church in Atlanta — a speech that, the defense argued, was a direct public response to the nepotism allegations.

Willis points out that the defense doesn't have a problem with McAfee's factual findings, just how he used those facts in relation to the law.

The state's brief says that the trial court found that the District Attorney's public comments related to the office's conviction rates, the charges in the indictment, the procedural status of the case, the importance of the investigation, or personal stories. The court also concluded that a speech given at a church didn't go too far because it didn't name any defendant, reveal sensitive evidence, address the merits of the indicted offenses, or affect the jury selection process.

The defense, however, asserts that the district attorney's speech at the church contained inflammatory racial comments and stirred up racial animosity to influence potential jurors in response to the disqualification motion.inflammatory extrajudicial racial commentsabout the defendants and improperly stokedracial animusto influence prospective jurors as a response to the disqualification motion.

Willis dismisses those concerns in a footnote.

The trial court noted the District Attorney’s comment that individuals were “playing the race card” and her references to the different races of three special prosecutors. Although the trial court found that “the effect” was to “cast racial aspersions” at the decision to file the motion to disqualify, it is no surprise the court still found no basis to disqualify the District Attorney. Factual passing references to the various races of members of a prosecuting team are hardly the type of egregious commentary contemplated by [case law] to warrant disqualification. And a comment suggesting individuals were “playing the race card” is too vague, brief, and limited in scope to imply any defendant harbored racial prejudice, particularly to the point of requiring disqualification.

The trial court declined to remove the district attorney, saying the case was too distant from the trial for the church speech to have tainted the jury pool, but did suggest that the defense would be well within their rights, and likely successful, in seeking a gag order based on the speech. and likely to succeed, should the defendants seek a gag order based on the speech.

The defense argues that the trial court made a significant mistake by not disqualifying Willis and her office from the case, constituting a violation of constitutional due process.

Willis, once again, argues that the lower court made the right decision and that there's no need for the appellate court to even consider the case.

The state's brief continues by stating that there was no error in the trial court's decision to deny disqualification. They maintain that no evidence or testimony revealed a pre-trial plan to prejudice the defendants or secure their convictions. The applicants didn't identify any public statement showing the District Attorney's personal belief in the defendants' guilt or influencing the public's opinion on the evidence.

Additionally, the defense claims that Willis made a false statement in a court document and later lied under oath about her relationship, constituting forensic misconduct. The defendants argue that the judge failed by not using those alleged lies as a basis for disqualification.

The judge stated that there remains a suspicion of dishonesty, and reasonable doubts about whether the District Attorney and her selected SADA testified truthfully about the timing of their relationship, supporting the conclusion of improper behavior and the need to take steps to fix it.

Willis avoids addressing the trial court’s criticism by pointing out that McAfee did not actually directly accuse her of lying to hide the affair.

“The trial court’s decision shows that the judge carefully considered the District Attorney’s and Wade’s testimony, but the court did not make a factual finding of false testimony or a false affidavit,” the state’s brief continues. “By asking for a different finding on this issue, the applicants want this Court to interfere with the trial court and make more factual findings, which it cannot do. Because interim review is clearly not allowed on this basis, this argument should be dismissed.”

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