Fani T. Willis, the district attorney prosecuting the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump, is seeking to quash a subpoena requiring her to testify in the divorce proceedings of a special prosecutor she appointed to manage the case.
In a court filing last week, Ms. Willis was accused of having a romantic relationship with prosecutor Nathan J. Wade.
The motion to impeach was filed by Michael Roman, one of Mr. Trump's 14 co-defendants in the criminal case. The motion argues that the relationship, for which he provided no evidence, constitutes a conflict of interest; It is sought to have Mr. Wade, Ms. Willis and their office dismissed from the case.
Mr. Roman's lawyer said sealed court records in the pending divorce proceedings between Mr. Wade and his wife, Joycelyn, contain documentation of his relationship with Ms. Willis. Ms. Wade's lawyer subpoenaed Ms. Willis last week and asked that she be deposed on January 23.
On Thursday, Ms. Willis responded with a filing stating that she lacked “personal knowledge of all matters relevant to the divorce.” She did not directly acknowledge the allegation, but said there was no reason for her to give evidence as both Mr Wade and his wife had said their marriage was “irretrievably broken”.
“It is well established that when both parties in a divorce proceeding assert that a marriage has irretrievably broken down, which is a legal conclusion indicating that there is no hope of reconciliation, there is no longer a real question of fact to be determined about the divorce “Cinque Axam, a lawyer for Ms. Willis, wrote in the filing.
The filing also said that Ms. Wade “colluded” with “interested parties” in the Trump case “to annoy, embarrass and oppress Ms. Willis.” It noted that Ms. Willis had been subpoenaed around the same time that Mr. Roman's lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, filed motions to unseal the divorce documents and, in the Trump case, to dismiss the two prosecutors.
The filing also said that Ms. Wade had admitted to having an affair with a long-time friend of Mr. Wade's and that the couple had previously agreed in 2017 that their marriage had “irretrievably broken down” before Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis would have met.
Andrea Dyer Hastings, a lawyer for Ms. Wade, said she was preparing a response that she would file in court.
Ms. Merchant said in a text message: “Ms. Willis claims that her deposition is an attempt to harass and tarnish her professional reputation. Why should her truthful statement tarnish her reputation?”
On Thursday, the judge presiding over the Trump case scheduled a hearing for February 15 on Mr. Roman's motion seeking to remove Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade from the case — and dismiss the charges against him. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ordered Ms. Willis to file a written response to the motion by Feb. 2 and to appear at the hearing, which will be televised like all other proceedings in the case.
A hearing to unseal the divorce records is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Cobb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta.
Mr. Roman's motion in the Trump case says that Mr. Wade, who received more than $650,000 from prosecutors, used some of that money for trips he and Ms. Willis took together. The motion also questions whether Mr. Wade is fit to play a central role in high-profile law enforcement.
The events of the last ten days have added an unexpected dimension to a case that has also brought issues of race and gender to the fore.
In a recent email exchange between defense attorneys and prosecutors, Ms. Willis wrote that “some people will never be able to respect African Americans.” The email exchange, portions of which were obtained by The New York Times, found in the days before and after the romantic relationship claim was filed.
In a group email thread involving prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case, Mr. Trump's lead attorney in Georgia, Steven H. Sadow, expressed anger that prosecutors had ignored a request he had made . On January 5, he wrote to prosecutors: “I cannot for the life of me understand why you refuse to respond to the following emails.”
Five days later, Daysha Young, a senior district attorney who, like Ms. Willis, is black, wrote that she and Ms. Willis “both recognize that it is difficult for some to treat us with respect as African Americans.”
She added: “Over the last month the emails from some of you have been disrespectful and condescending, lacking professionalism and decency.” Ms Young also said she had not responded to some emails because they were disrespectful .
Mr. Sadow, who is white, responded with an email saying it was “offensive, inappropriate and untrue” to suggest racism was at play. He also said Ms Young's lack of response to some emails from the defense “suggests a degree of arrogance”.
Then Ms. Willis spoke up.
“In the legal community (and around the world), some people will never be able to respect African Americans and/or women as equals and counterparts,” she wrote in a note addressed to Mr. Sadow but addressed to all defense attorneys , most of whom are white men. “It’s a burden that you don’t experience. Furthermore, some are so used to it that they are not even aware they are doing it, while others are deliberate in their continued disrespect.”
Ms. Willis also advocated for her own strength. “Now you know I can’t be bullied,” she wrote. She added: “As you know, I have now experienced some of the most powerful people in the country calling me anything but a child of God. “But nonetheless, I and my team are still on the hunt for justice.”
Mr. Sadow declined to comment when asked about the exchange on Thursday, as did Ms. Willis' office.
In a speech on Sunday at a historically black church in Atlanta, Ms. Willis suggested that racism played a role in the allegations against her and Mr. Wade, who is also Black.
Ms Willis has not addressed the claim that she and Mr Wade were romantic partners. She referred to the frequent racist threats she has faced since her investigation into Mr. Trump began in 2021.
Mr. Trump has sought to portray the Georgia case and other criminal proceedings against him as unfair “witch hunts” motivated in part by the fact that he is a white man. He baselessly called Ms. Willis a “racist” and said the same about other black prosecutors who are prosecuting him.
During a speech in August, Mr. Trump made the baseless claim that Ms. Willis was “having an affair” with a “gang member.” She said it was wrong.