Fani Willis disqualification hearing: Decision expected in 2 weeks

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee heard closing arguments Friday afternoon related to the motion filed by former President Donald Trump's co-defendant Michael Roman to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade because of their relationship and allegedly financial benefit from the prosecution of the 2020 Georgia election interference case. The following is a live blog of what happened in court. 


4:17 p.m. | McAfee says it's obvious that there are several legal issues to consider and he can't make a decision right now. He plans to take a couple of weeks to look at everything before he makes a decision. Court is dismissed. 

4:15 p.m. Sadow also addresses state's argument that defense never asked Wade specifically about conversations with Bradley. Sadow says the state and Wade's attorney objected repeatedly, but they would be happy to call Wade back to the stand. 

4:12 p.m. | Trump's lawyer Steve Sadow is now presenting a rebuttal of the state's closing argument. In response to Abbate's observation that Wade never visited Willis in her home before she moved to Hapeville, Sadow points out that she was living with "daddy" at the time and the couple was going to great lengths to make sure that no one knew about their relationship. 

4:01 p.m. | Now Abbate is pointing out that if Willis was truly prosecuting this case for financial gain, it would have benefited her to prosecute more people, which she supposedly had the opportunity to do, and to delay prosecution of the Georgia election interference case. She also would have put Wade on more cases for the state. 

3:50 p.m. | Judge McAfee is asking Abbate about cellphone records. Abbate admits that they use cellphone analysis when prosecuting cases, but stresses that the state uses experts and the person that the defense used was not an expert and the report wasn't peer-reviewed. 

McAfee asks Abbate if the state can get past the foundational issues with the evidence, what is their reaction to the records.

Abbate responds that it is "telling" that if Willis and Wade were in a relationship since 2019, that his phone was never near her house in South Fulton between January and April 2021 when she moved to Hapeville. Additionally, Abbate pointed out that Wade's cellphone was in Hapeville multiple times before Willis moved to the area. He also said that it is well known that data is not as reliable as voice records and that it is also known that AT&T records are known for having double and triplicate entries, which could have resulted in the appearance that his phone was in the vicinity of her home more often than it actually was. 

3:48 p.m. | Abbate points out that none of the other people who were subpoenaed to testify about the relationship between Willis and Wade's relationship ever testified. Abbate claims this is because they didn't have any knowledge and it was just a "fishing expedition" by merchant.

3:30 p.m. | Abbate is reviewing Willis' father's testimony that he taught his daughter to always keep cash on hand. Willis testified that she always had cash in her home and on her person in case she needed it and that she used cash to repay Wade for her half of anything they did together. Abbate points out that no one offered evidence that Willis did not keep cash in her house. 

3:32 p.m. | Abbate is now playing back a recording of Judge McAfee questioning Ashleigh Merchant about Terrence Bradley's testimony. Abbate says Bradley had a motive to lie and his disdain for Wade was pretty clear. He also says that Merchant's question – Do you think it started… – was also speculative. 

3:21 p.m. | Abbate says he wants to move into the evidence that the judge heard, specifically what the judge heard from Robin Yearti and Terrence Bradley. Abbate says that Bradley said approximately 15 times that he had no knowledge of a relationship. Abbati says Yearti's testimony was "inconsistent at best."

3:19 p.m. | Abbate says that many of the questions that were asked of Willis were meant to embarrass her and harass her and were not related to the case or the motion. 

3:10 p.m. | Abbate is using a PowerPoint presentation during his closing arguments. Willis stands up at one point and hands a note to Abbate. 

3:02 p.m. | Abbate is now telling the court that there is no evidence that Willis has benefited in any way from the prosecution of this case. 

2:55 p.m. | Additionally, Abbate says there is no evidence that the relationship between Wade and Willis has affected the due process rights of the defendants. 

2:50 p.m. | Prosecutor Adam Abbate with the state has begun his closing arguments. So far, he has only pointed out that the defense has provided no hard evidence that Willis and Wade lied about when their relationship began. Abbate also says that he never called Ashleigh Merchant a liar and suggests that Terrence Bradley lied to her. 

2:39 p.m. | Fulton County DA Fani Willis just walked in the courtroom. 

2:30 p.m. | Harry McDougald tells the judge there are numerous disqualifying conflicts, including financial, personal and political ambition, an abuse of power when she sought a protective order in connection to Wade's divorce case, and her speech at the church in defense of Wade. McDougald tells the judge that the Fulton County District Attorney's Office is a "global laughingstock."

2:16 p.m. | Attorney Richard Rice, who represents Bob Cheeley, says Willis and Wade lived Robin Leach's "lifestyles of the rich and famous." Attorney tells judge that the personal interest he was asking about was the money flow. Attorney claims records indicate Wade paid at least $17,095 on trips for the couple while Willis only paid $1,394. 

Rice also points out that there was no evidence given to dispute that Willis' former friend Robin Yearti saw Willis and Wade hugging and kissing. Instead, Rice points out that Willis and Wade spent a lot of time making sure everyone knew that they didn't have sex until 2022. He says their talk of sex was a "red herring." That doesn't mean they weren't in a relationship before that time. Rice also points out that Willis and Wade exchanged 12,000 text messages and 2,000 phone calls. 

1:59 p.m. | Craig Gillen, who represents David Shafer, begins by talking about the speech Willis made to the historical Black church during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Judge McAfee asks Gillen if there's a case when a prosecutor was thrown off a case because of improper comments prior to a case.  Gillen says, "She chose to play the race card and the God card."

1:48 pm. | Sadow brings up the text messages between Merchant and Bradley, specifically when Merchant asked Bradley if he thought the relationship began before Willis hired Wade and Bradley replied "absolutely." 

Judge McAfee asks the lawyer if they have ever been able to show besides the text messages what Bradley actually knew. 

1:40 p.m. | According to Sadow, the judge doesn't need to find that Willis and Wade lied to the court. The judge just needs to find that there is a legitimate concern about their truthfulness. Sadow says that according to Georgia law, the appearance of impropriety is enough for disqualification. 

1:33 p.m. | Steve Sadow, lawyer for former president Donald Trump, is now addressing the judge. Sadow says he is going to talk about forensic misconduct. Sadow is talking about what is now called the "church speech." Sadow says the speech was a violation of professional rules of conduct. 

Image 1 of 15


1:27 p.m. | Merchant tells Judge McAfee that he needs to take a minute to address the fact that his wife, Ashleigh Merchant, was called a liar. He says that the text chain between his wife and Terrence Bradley that has been submitted into evidence proves she was not lying and that the state needs to be held accountable for calling her one publicly. 

1:23 p.m. | Merchant says that they could care less that Wade and Willis had a relationship outside of work. The issue is the money. Merchant says that when Willis awarded Wade the contract in 2019, that's when the problems began. He also pointed out that their claims that she paid Wade back in cash for trips doesn't add up. Merchant says according to their math, there is at least $9,247 that is unaccounted for – $9,247 that benefited Willis. 

1:21 p.m. | Merchant tells the judge that if Roman's motion to disqualify WIllis and her office is denied, Roman will demand a new trial. 

1:15 p.m. | Merchant tells the judge that there are two types of prosecutorial misconduct in Georgia – appearance of impropriety and forensic misconduct. 

1:11 p.m. | Attorney John Merchant is up first on behalf of defendant Michael Roman, who filed the motion for disqualification. Merchant is explaining what each lawyer will be covering for the defense. Merchant says he will be speaking about conflict. 

1:09 p.m. | David Shafer's attorney Craig Gillen indicates that he has a witness that can call Terrence Bradley's testimony into question. Judge McAfee doesn't want to hear from the witness at this time, but told the lawyer he can submit the information for the record. 

1:06 p.m. | Judge McAfee says that if the lawyers want to assume that the cellphone records will be admitted into evidence and use part of their time to talk about those records, they may do so. 

1:02 p.m. | Judge McAfee has entered the courtroom. The judge tells both sides they will have an hour and a half to present their closing arguments. The defense lawyers will have to divide the time between them. 


After days of extraordinary testimony, the judge in Georgia's election interference case against former President Donald Trump is set to hear closing arguments on Friday over whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the prosecution over a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade one of the special prosecutors on the case.

Lawyers for Trump and co-defendants in the election case argue that Willis’ romance with Wade has created a conflict of interest. They say Willis paid Wade large sums for his work and then improperly benefited when he paid for vacations for the two of them.

Willis and Wade acknowledged that they had a "personal relationship," which they say ended in the summer of 2023, but they have argued that the relationship does not create a conflict of interest and there are no grounds to dismiss the case or to remove her from the prosecution.

Since the relationship was revealed by the attorney of Trump co-defendant Michael Roman in early January, the subject has dominated the court’s time and the public’s attention.


Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building on August 14, 2023 in Atlanta. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Merchant's motion alleged Willis and Wade were already dating when she hired him as special prosecutor for the election case in November 2021. Lawyers for Roman, Trump and some of the other defendants in the election case repeatedly tried during last month’s hearing to prove the prosecutors were not being truthful about when their relationship began.


Robin Yeartie, Willis’ former friend and employee, testified in court she saw the pair hugging and kissing long before Willis hired Wade. But Wade’s former law partner and onetime divorce attorney, Terrence Bradley remained evasive during testimony, saying he had "no direct knowledge of when the relationship started."


Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade testifies during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on February 15, 2024 in Atlanta. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

The hearings have at times wandered into surreal territory: Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens watching from the gallery as former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes testified, Willis’ father talking about keeping stashes of cash around the house and details of romantic getaways.

Last week, Trump’s attorneys filed an analysis of location data from Wade’s cellphone that they say supports the assertion Willis and Wade began dating before he was hired. An investigator’s statement says Wade’s phone was in the neighborhood south of Atlanta where Willis was living at least 35 times in the first 11 months of 2021. Wade had testified he visited Willis’ condo fewer than 10 times before his hiring.

The FOX 5 I-Team says it is unlikely that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will rule from the bench after closing arguments on Friday.

FOX 5 will stream the hearing on its website and YouTube page.

Can Fani Willis be removed from the Trump election case?

Willis’ removal would throw the most sprawling of the four criminal cases against Trump into question as the former president seeks a return to the White House. But it wouldn’t necessarily mean the charges against him and 14 others would be dropped.

McAfee has the power to remove Wade, Willis, and their offices from any prosecution of the case. It remains unclear whether the judge will find the relationship caused a conflict of interest that merits removing the prosecutors from the case.

At a hearing preceding testimony, McAfee noted that under the law, "disqualification can occur if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one." He said he wanted testimony to explore "whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic or non-romantic in nature, when it formed and whether it continues."

Those questions were only relevant "in combination with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit conveyed as a result of the relationship," McAfee said.

If McAfee decides to remove Willis and her office from the election case, it would be up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to find another prosecutor to take the case. That person could continue on the track that Willis has taken, could choose to pursue only some charges or could dismiss the case altogether.

Finding a prosecutor willing and able to take on the sprawling case could be difficult, former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said. Only a few district attorneys in the state — all around Atlanta — have the resources to handle such a case, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.