Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a...

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Friday, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta. A progressive Democrat and a Republican who briefly worked in Donald Trump's administration entered the Fulton County district attorney's race Friday, March 8, 2024, as the current officeholder, Willis, awaits a judge's decision on whether she will be removed from the Georgia election interference case against the former president. Credit: AP/Alex Slitz

ATLANTA — Former President Donald Trump and other defendants in Georgia's election interference case filed court papers Monday seeking to appeal a judge's ruling not to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from their prosecution or dismiss the charges.

The resignation of the special prosecutor with whom Willis had a romantic relationship is not enough to correct the appearance of impropriety the judge found, according to a court filing by attorneys for Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and five other defendants.

“Whether District Attorney Willis and her Office are permitted to continue representing the State of Georgia in prosecuting the Defendants in this action is of the utmost importance to this case, and ensuring the appellate courts have the opportunity to weigh in on these matters pre-trial is paramount,” they wrote.

The filing asks Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to grant a certificate that would allow his decision to be reviewed by the Georgia Court of Appeals. A spokesman for Willis said the district attorney's office couldn't comment.

McAfee ruled Friday that special prosecutor Nathan Wade had to leave the case or Willis couldn’t continue to pursue the charges. Wade later resigned, allowing Willis to remain on the most sprawling of four criminal cases against the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election.

McAfee did not find that Willis’ relationship with Wade amounted to a conflict of interest but said the allegations created an “appearance of impropriety” that infected the prosecution team.

Attorneys for Trump and the other defendants who joined Monday's filing said a failure to remove Willis now could imperil any convictions and force a retrial if an appeals court later finds it was warranted.

“Neither the Court nor the Parties should run an unnecessary risk of having to go through that process more than once,” they wrote.

Willis hired Wade in 2021 to lead the team to investigate and ultimately prosecute Trump and 18 others on charges that they illegally tried to overturn his narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia in 2020. The case uses a statute normally associated with mobsters to accuse the former president, lawyers and other aides of a “criminal enterprise” to keep him in power.

Willis and Wade testified at a hearing last month that they had engaged in a romantic relationship, but they rejected the idea that Willis improperly benefited from it, as lawyers for Trump and some of his co-defendants alleged. Willis and Wade insisted they didn’t begin dating until after he became special prosecutor and the relationship ended in the summer of 2023. They both said that Willis either paid for things herself or used cash to reimburse Wade for travel expenses.

McAfee wrote that there was insufficient evidence that Willis had a personal stake in the prosecution. And he said he was unable to “conclusively establish by a preponderance of the evidence” whether Willis and Wade began dating before or after he was hired as special prosecutor.

“However, an odor of mendacity remains,” the judge wrote.

The judge also called a speech Willis gave at a historic Black church in Atlanta less than a week after the allegations of her relationship with Wade surfaced “legally improper.” Willis complained in those remarks that people had questioned her decision to hire Wade and questioned his qualifications, seeming to suggest the criticism arose from the fact that she and Wade are Black.

Monday's filing cited the speech and argued an appellate court would likely find it and the appearance of impropriety McAfee found sufficient to disqualify Willis.

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