YARBROUGH COLUMN: Fulton County DA suddenly finds herself in a big mess

Published 4:23 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

Shades of Laurel and Hardy. When something went awry in one of their slapstick movies Oliver Hardy would declare to hapless Stan Laurel, “This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” This would certainly apply to Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, and unlike Laurel and Hardy who managed to extricate themselves from said mess before the end of the movie, Willis’s mess isn’t going away. In fact, it is getting messier.

For reasons that make no sense other than political self-aggrandizement, Willis took it upon herself to begin an investigation and indictment of former president Donald Trump and eighteen others on racketeering, conspiracy and other charges regarding potential 2020 election interference.

I am not a Donald Trump fan but I think the effort is and has been a waste of taxpayer dollars and that any perceived electoral misdeeds on the part of the former president and his supporters should be the responsibility of federal authorities, not Fulton County. Willis should be concentrating on the huge backlog of pending felony cases awaiting trial. Leave Trump and his posse to the Feds.

It has been a mess from the beginning. The first indication was when Willis subpoenaed Georgia’s current Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, one of 16 Trump electors who signed on to an “unofficial electorate certificate” in an effort to undo the Electoral College vote in the 2020 election. This, after she had held a fundraiser for Jones’ Democratic opponent before the election and had donated money to his primary campaign.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney who oversaw the special grand jury proceedings criticized Willis and called it a “What are you thinking moment,” and added, “The optics are horrific.” And the political ineptitude striking.

Fani Willis now finds herself in a mess worse than anything Laurel and Hardy could have dreamed up. A motion filed by attorney Ashleigh Merchant, representing Mike Roman, one of Donald Trump’s codefendants in the case, accuses Willis of engaging in an “improper, clandestine personal relationship” with a married private attorney, Nathan Wade, who she had hired as a “special prosecutor.”

Fulton County records show Willis has paid Wade $654,000 since January 2022, far more than other attorneys on the case. Merchant says she has no proof that Wade has ever tried a felony RICO case. The other two special prosecutors are Anna Cross a former DeKalb County assistant district attorney who has handled dozens of felony cases and John Floyd, considered an expert on state RICO prosecutions and who helped draft the law. Together, they billed $116,000, less than a quarter of what Wade was paid.

Merchant’s motion which runs 38 pages alleges among other things that Willis and Wade began a romantic relationship prior to her hiring him and that Wade funded lavish vacations for the two of them with money he was paid for his work on the election interference case.

The mess keeps getting messier. On the same day Merchant filed her motion, Willis was served with a subpoena by representatives of Nathan Wade’s wife, Joycelyn, to testify in the Wades’ divorce case.  As it stands now, the records of the divorce action have been sealed in Cobb County and a number of news outlets, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN are asking that the records be unsealed. Willis has been trying to quash the subpoena seeking her testimony in the divorce proceedings. Why? Does she have anything to hide?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee who is overseeing the election interference case against former president Trump and the others has set a hearing for Feb. 15 and has given the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office a Feb. 2 deadline to file a written response to the allegations made by Mike Roman and his legal team.

Rather than provide taxpayers with answers as to the accusations and taking the opportunity to prove her accusers wrong, Willis has chosen instead to play the race card. She has declared all of this is because she is a Black woman. Joycelyn Wade, Nathan Wade’s ex, is a Black woman, too. This isn’t about race. It is about perceptions.

If Fani Willis is paying a hefty salary to a romantic partner with limited experience, that is a genuine conflict of interest that would require her dismissal from the case and possible action by the State Bar Association and perhaps Georgia Atty. Gen. Chris Carr. I’m afraid even Laurel and Hardy can’t help her out of this fine mess.