Fani Willis may have committed the common trial blunder known as “opening the door” this weekend. While speaking to a local church and accusing her critics of racism and sexism, Willis made the claim that she treated Nathan Wade no differently than other special prosecutors she had hired in the past. “I appointed three special counsels, as is my right to do,” Willis told the congregation, “paid them all the same hourly rate.”
Until Willis made that claim, no one had thought to check that history. Did Willis tell the truth in church? Not according to receipts dug up by the Daily Caller News Foundation and reported by the New York Post late Monday:
Under fire Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis stands accused of paying one of her special prosecutors $100 less per hour than her less-qualified alleged lover Nathan Wade.
Court records show Wade billing the Fulton District Attorney’s office $250 per hour for his work prosecuting Donald Trump and 18 others on state racekteering charges over 2020 election interference in November and December 2021, despite having no experience in that area of law.
Meanwhile John Floyd — regarded the state’s foremost expert on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) cases — was only billing $150 an hour in those same months, according to a contract obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The third prosecutor did get paid at the same rate as Wade, however. Anna Cross got paid $250 an hour in the same time period as Floyd, which may not make Floyd terribly happy. It’s not clear that we’re dealing apples-to-apples here either. Willis hired Wade to actually prosecute the RICO case against Trump et al; Floyd’s contract scope doesn’t include any courtroom work, at least not explicitly. Floyd’s contract makes it look more like he’s strictly a consultant.
This raises an entirely new question, however. Why did Willis hire Wade at $250 an hour if he needed a $150-an-hour consultant to handle his first-ever RICO prosecution? Why not just hire a RICO expert in the first place? Even if Floyd didn’t want to take on that job, Georgia has other attorneys with expertise in RICO cases that Willis could have hired. Instead, she hired someone with no experience at all for one of the most novel and high-profile RICO cases in history, and apparently hired him a tutor to get through it.
Willis also argued that Wade’s hiring should have been uncontroversial because a white Republican DA had earlier hired him as a special prosecutor for a probe into suspicious deaths in the Cobb County jail. That also raises some serious questions, as defense attorney and commentator Andrew Fleischman points out in the Daily Beast. That case ended very badly for Wade, leaving the impression that Wade had helped to cover up malfeasance:
In her speech, Willis argued that Wade was competent because he had been hired as special counsel by a white Republican when Cobb County hired him to conduct an investigation into jail deaths. But a local news station successfully argued that the investigation was only launched to prevent the public from filing open records requests into the deaths. At the hearing, Nathan Wade admitted that, despite spending five months talking to deputies and investigating the issue, he had failed to keep a single note. Cobb County quickly settled and turned the papers over. This suggests that Wade might not have been selected because he was especially diligent, but rather because he could be trusted to help keep a secret.
At best, the conclusion from this episode is that Wade was sloppy to the point of incompetence. Put that together with his complete lack of experience at felony prosecutions, let alone complex RICO cases, and the questions become louder as to why Willis hired Wade rather than several other attorneys with far more experience and success.
That is what makes the allegation of a personal romantic connection so compelling, and why it necessitates an investigation. And it’s not as if either Willis or Wade are issuing denials either, Fleischman pointedly notes at the Daily Beast. Instead, Willis used her podium at the church on Sunday to scold critics for expecting a black woman to be perfect and to claim that the allegations are based in bigotry … which should be news to Wade’s soon-to-be ex-wife.
Judge Scott McAfee will hold a hearing on the allegations of a conflict of interest in the Willis-Wade arrangement next month. If Willis and Wade aren’t denying a romantic relationship, then they could both find their professional status and their case in dire straits, Fleischman warns, and for good reasons:
The standard to disqualify Fulton County here is not whether Fani Willis actually made her decisions to benefit Nathan Wade. It’s plausible that she would have made the exact same choices without the personal relationship. But if her choices to extend or prolong the investigation benefit a romantic partner, who is paying for her meals and vacations, that is an actual conflict.
Indeed, and since this is not the first brush with professional scandal for either Willis or Wade, the state bar may need to take an interest in this too. Fleischman doesn’t believe that McAfee will dismiss the indictment, but rather just disqualify Fulton County entirely from prosecuting it. That will kick the matter over to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, which will choose another venue for the indictment.
However, McAfee may take an opportunity to look at the strange application of RICO to this case and decide that Willis had ulterior motives in crafting it and force another venue to start over from scratch. You can bet that Roman’s attorneys will argue for dismissal as well as a disqualification and that the other defendants will appeal any decision that leaves the indictment in place after a DQ — assuming one comes. Stay tuned, and prepare the popcorn.
The latest episode of The Ed Morrissey Show podcast is now up! Today’s show features:
- Iowa voters have spoken — but how much should we read into the results?
- Andrew Malcolm and I discuss the history of the Iowa caucuses, and why the weight of incumbency may dictate outcomes for both parties.
- We also discuss the early calls by the networks on the caucus results, and both of us lament the ends of the season for our teams in the NFL playoffs.
The Ed Morrissey Show is now a fully downloadable and streamable show at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, the TEMS Podcast YouTube channel, and on Rumble and our own in-house portal at the #TEMS page!