Georgia Judge Allows Trump and Co-Defendants to Appeal Ruling on Prosecutor

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In a setback for Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, a judge on Wednesday allowed defense lawyers in the Georgia criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump and his allies to try to appeal his ruling allowing Ms. Willis to stay on the case.

Defense lawyers needed permission from the judge, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court, to pursue an appeal, and he granted it in a two-paragraph order. Whether it slows down the election interference case against Mr. Trump and his 14 co-defendants remains unclear.

The Georgia Court of Appeals must still decide if it will weigh in on whether Ms. Willis has an untenable conflict of interest stemming from a romantic relationship she had with a lawyer she hired to run the Trump case, and on other related matters.

Judge McAfee wrote in his brief order that he “intends to continue addressing the many other unrelated pending pretrial motions” while the higher court decides what to do.

If the appeals court declines to take up the question, the matter will be resolved quickly. If it decides an appeal is warranted, the matter could take months to clear up.

In a statement, Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Ms. Willis’s office, said that prosecutors would continue to work on the case.

“As the case is not stayed during the appeal, this office will work to move it forward to trial as quickly as possible,” Mr. DiSantis said. “We will limit our comment on the appellate matter to what we file with the Court of Appeals during the briefing process.”

Steven H. Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, called the order “highly significant” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the defense was “optimistic that appellate review will lead to the case being dismissed and the D.A. being disqualified.”

No trial date has been set in the broader case; the district attorney’s office had sought to begin a trial in early August, about a year after Ms. Willis brought charges, but few expect that to happen now.

The case charges Mr. Trump and a number of his allies with conspiring to circumvent the will of Georgia voters in 2020. But the details of the case have been overshadowed this year by hearings delving into a romantic relationship that Ms. Willis had with Nathan J. Wade, the lawyer she hired to run the Trump case.

Last week, Judge McAfee ruled that Ms. Willis and her office could continue leading the prosecution so long as Mr. Wade stepped away from it. Defense lawyers, who brought the relationship to light in court filings, had sought to disqualify Ms. Willis, saying she had an untenable conflict of interest.

Judge McAfee disagreed, but rebuked Ms. Willis in his ruling for a “tremendous lapse in judgment.” He also found an “appearance of impropriety,” which he said required Mr. Wade to withdraw in order for Ms. Willis to keep the case.

Mr. Wade resigned from his post as a special prosecutor hours after the ruling on Friday.

Under Georgia law, the defense lawyers now have 10 days to file an application to the appeals court arguing why an appeal is necessary. The district attorney’s office will have 10 days from the filing of that application to respond.

The appeals court will have 45 days from the defense filing to say whether it is going to take the case or not.


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