Fani Willis is the district attorney (DA) who is prosecuting former President Trump and many other people in Georgia on alleged election-related violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Her indictments are a breach of public trust and show disregard for settled rules.
In Georgia, a DA may hire outside prosecutors to help in certain cases. Typically, this is the route taken in complex matters in which an expert trial lawyer is needed for his vast experience prosecuting a particular kind of charge. Think of a complex international financial crime. There is a rigorous public approval process for such an appointment since the public already pays everyone in the prosecutor’s office to charge and try cases. To make sure even more money is spent wisely, the taxpayers must be made aware and be protected. Without rules and oversight, prosecutors could just appoint friends and family members to line their pockets.
One of the defendants in the case has filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the charges against him on various grounds. One argument is especially interesting.
Purportedly, Willis appointed her married boyfriend as a special prosecutor. One of his jobs was to meet with the Justice Department before the indictments went live in Georgia to compare notes. His other job has been to be Willis’ mouthpiece for plea negotiations. There are potentially some meaningful problems with this.
Per the motion, Willis neither obtained nor even sought the mandatory public approvals needed to appoint and put him on the payroll. So he might just be a private citizen with no power or authority who is prosecuting criminal defendants including a former president.
He allegedly did not take his oath as required. Both the request Willis was required to make prior to his appointment and his oath accepting the appointment had mandatory requirements stating there was no conflict of interest in the appointment. If they are indeed romantically involved, neither could have made honest disclosures that are required to protect the public and the process from conflicts of interest. Who would knowingly approve of a DA hiring a lover on the public’s dime?
So far, the DA’s office has paid her supposed boyfriend hundreds of thousands of dollars and has paid other money, a lot of it, to his law partners. Is this outside lawyer a recognized expert in RICO? Per the pleadings, he has never prosecuted or defended a felony case. So why did Willis need him so badly on the trial team? It seems few people would want to take their first shot in a trial like this.
Defense lawyers started looking into Willis because she had been seen in fancy places like Napa and on cruises — with this guy — probably while appearing on MSNBC sitting firmly atop her high ethical horse. She makes around $200,000 a year. He is suddenly stacking cash and allegedly paying for them to take expensive trips. Purportedly his wife and kids did not come along.
The defense lawyers have argued that Willis violated her oath, is acting unethically, and is running afoul of state RICO laws (the same ones she is using against the defendants) by defrauding the public to send a fortune to her unqualified boyfriend so they can see each other all day and so he can wine and dine her. This is the gist of the argument. They also submit that the intentional failure of both to make proper disclosures should disqualify them from further involvement in these cases.
There are various receipts attached to the motion including proof of payment.
The defendant argues that since Willis did not appoint her outside counsel properly, but rather skirted the rules to do so, and has a direct or indirect financial interest in the continued prosecution of all the defendants, the case against him must be dismissed as defectively filed and corruptly maintained. He alleges direct ethical misconduct. Not a bad argument if these facts are not quickly and convincingly rebutted.
A proper response must include a sworn statement from both lawyers that they are not involved in a personal relationship, they have not traveled together on personal vacations, and they followed all the proper procedures to appoint him — with a copy of such documents. Few are holding their breath for this result.
Willis’ Possible Defense
Willis will have a chance and obligation to respond in a court filing. She is absolutely entitled to that. Her response will likely be that there was an unfortunate paperwork mistake made by her staff and her personal life is no one’s business. That won’t fly. If she hired her man and avoided oversight to do so, she opened the door to public scrutiny and will have to respond in a court pleading and potentially under oath. If these claims are true, there is likely to be a complaint with the Georgia bar. If false, the lawyers who filed the motion are in that same jeopardy.
If the gist of these allegations is true, the ethics rules in most jurisdictions would label this as willful ethical misconduct. After getting to the bottom of this, the judge can dismiss the case against one or all defendants, remove the special prosecutor, remove Willis from the case, or do some or none of those things. This could cause significant delays in the cases. When a prosecutor is proven to be corrupt, which is the allegation, a review is done of his/her prior cases for evidence of wrongdoing. There is a lot going on here.
What a mess, as is often true of many of these grandstanding lawyers and jurists who are upwardly politically mobile and play perceived hardball. If you want to be a prosecutor, be one full-time. If you want to be a politician or celebrity, apply for those jobs. Trying to do both at the same time is a recipe for embarrassment or worse.
Most of all, if you are going to argue that you are firmly on the side of justice, and the law applies the same way to everyone, you had better personally follow all of the rules.
Many on the left have grown quiet on this topic. Some have sprung to Willis’ defense and said that nothing she might have done changes what Trump did when he questioned election results. Sure, completely ignore the alleged wrongdoing of the publicly paid prosecutor and her one-off charges and focus only on what she says about the other guy. Because that is how the rules work in a leftist autocracy. If Willis committed misconduct in a case of this magnitude, she should be hammered. If these allegations are false, the lawyers who filed the brief are in trouble and Willis should be publicly vindicated.
If Trump is reelected, before or after a Georgia trial, and Willis indeed worked through the back door to hire and enrich her boyfriend, Mars will be too close for these people to effectively hide from the repercussions. Imagine being on trial for your freedom and seeing these games, including a potential tryst, being played by the other team.