OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
A former U.S. attorney is warning that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to delay addressing allegations of possible corruption and an inappropriate relationship with a top prosecutor she hired to assist with her case against former President Donald Trump is a “bad look” for which she may not recover.
Joyce Vance said on Monday that the delay could also provide ammunition for Trump’s legal team.
The warning comes on the heels of a court filing by co-defendant Mike Roman, who has alleged that her romantic relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade was improper and that it is grounds for her to be disqualified from continuing to lead the case.
Willis personally addressed the allegations on Friday, acknowledging that she indeed had a “personal relationship” with Wade. However, she further claimed that the relationship began after he was assigned to the Trump case and did not pose any conflicts of interest. An evidentiary hearing regarding the issue is slated for February 16.
Several expert analysts have pointed out that, from a legal standpoint, Willis’ association with Wade did not create any conflict of interest. However, they have also noted that the situation has generated negative optics for the prosecution, Newsweek noted.
In her Substack column “Civil Discourse” on Sunday, Vance, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama now working as a legal analyst, expressed similar views. She agreed that the relationship between Willis and Wade did not create a conflict of interest since they both shared the same stance on the matter. However, she cautioned that the District Attorney’s delay in addressing the allegations had created a “bad look.”
“But despite the legal technicalities here, which suggest that Fulton County voters are entitled to have the case managed by the district attorney they elected, Willis’ delay in responding permitted the salacious allegation to fester and be treated as though they do merit recusal,” Vance wrote.
“It’s a bad look for her, and I’ve heard more than one experienced attorney assume that the relationship is enough to disqualify her. None of this is what we expect of a prosecutor handling a case of such significance,” Vance added.
“Assuming Judge [Scott] McAfee permits her to remain on the case, she will be a nonstop target for the former president. Willis would do well to proceed with humility and take responsibility for making such an unnecessary misstep,” she noted further.
After Willis’ filing, McAfee has now instructed Roman’s legal team to respond with an argument as to why an evidentiary hearing ought to move forward.
In an interview with Newsweek, David Aronberg, a Florida state attorney and legal expert, indicated that revealing the relationship at an earlier stage would not have prevented controversy. He noted that the mere appearance of a conflict would raise concerns, regardless of whether a conflict actually exists in terms of merit.
“When you indict a former president, especially someone as polarizing as Donald Trump, you’ve got to know you’ll be under a microscope and must make sure there are no vulnerabilities to exploit,” Aronberg explained.
“Willis’ relationship with Wade is not in itself a conflict of interest that requires recusal, but the perception of a conflict distracts from the prosecution and could delay matters. It’s the relationship and the payments to Wade that have generated unneeded controversy. Disclosing the relationship would not have changed that,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new filing by lawyers for former state GOP chair and Trump co-defendant David Shafer seeks to remove her for making a speech in January in which she questioned why Wade, who is black, was being singled out when her other two special prosecutors are white, Newsweek reported.
“All the causes of the disqualification are self-inflicted blows,” says the motion.