Trump co-defendant moves to disqualify Fulton County DA over relationship with lead prosecutor


Michael Roman, on the left, and Fani Willis, on the right

Left: Michael Roman; Right: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks on Aug. 14, 2023, in Atlanta (Fulton County Jail mug shot; AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A co-defendant in the Georgia racketeering (RICO) case against former President Donald Trump claims the Fulton County district attorney “has engaged in an improper, clandestine personal relationship” with the lead prosecutor overseeing the matter.

Michael Roman was a senior staff member for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Prosecutors in the Peach State claim he played a relevant, criminal, role in the fake or “contingent” electors scheme.

Monday marks the deadline for pretrial motions to be filed for many of the defendants in the election subversion conspiracy case.

In a 127-page filing, including a 39-page motion and dozens of pages of exhibits, Roman is asking the court to toss out the charges against him — and to bar both Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade from further involvement in the case.

The Roman motion begins by accusing Willis of improperly appointing Wade, who was also part of the process by which the state obtained the grand jury indictments in the case. The defense seeks a court “order striking the special purpose grand jury report and dismissing the criminal indictment in its entirety against Mr. Roman on the grounds that the entire prosecution is invalid and unconstitutional.”

The allegations of impropriety between Willis and Wade are the secondary argument advanced by Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh B. Merchant. They are not, however, offered in the alternative, and appear to be part-and-parcel of the broader defense effort.

Roman accuses the two prosecutors of having “been engaged in an improper, clandestine personal relationship” throughout the case which has allegedly led to both of them “profiting significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”

In an “introduction,” the Roman motion alleges that Willis used COVID-19-related funds to prosecute the 45th president’s, and others’, efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.

The motion then quickly turns to the alleged impropriety of hiring “a private special prosecutor to preside over the case” on the basis that both Willis and Wade “have been profiting personally.”

“This case presents a unique opportunity for this Court to review this authority and determine if the district attorney here overstepped her legal discretion and authority and whether she and the special prosecutor violated the law and their obligations under the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct when they engaged in a personal, romantic relationship that has ultimately yielded substantial income to the special prosecutor,” the motion argues.

The motion goes on to allege that Willis has used the RICO case against Trump, Roman, and others “to pay her partner a large sum of money that was originally allotted to clear the backlog of cases in Fulton County following the Covid pandemic.”

In no uncertain terms, Roman’s motion seeks to highlight various allegedly lurid aspects of the relationship at issue:

The district attorney chose to appoint her romantic partner … Admittedly, this is a bold allegation considering it is directed to one of the most powerful people in the State of Georgia, the Fulton County District Attorney. Nevertheless, the district attorney’s fame and power do not change the fact that she decided to appoint as the special prosecutor a person with whom she had a personal relationship and who is now leading the day-to-day prosecution of this case. Even assuming this type of nepotism might be forgiven in the abstract, a review of the amount of money that the special prosecutor has been paid by the district attorney and the personal activities of the district attorney and the special prosecutor during the pendency of this prosecution shed light on just how self-serving this arrangement has been.

The filing goes on to cite as evidence of this alleged affair: open records requests regarding the lack of county approval for Wade’s appointment, an admission by Wade that his oath was not filed before working on the case, Wade’s ongoing divorce and the fact of the records being sealed in the case, and “[s]ources close to both the special prosecutor and the district attorney have confirmed they had an ongoing, personal relationship during the pendency of the special prosecutor’s divorce proceedings.”

Roman also attempts to make hay out of alleged travel that Willis and Wade have made together.

“While the filings in the divorce case are sealed by Court order (the legality of which is open to question), information obtained outside of court filings indicates that the district attorney and special prosecutor have traveled personally together to such places as Napa Valley, Florida and the Caribbean and the special prosecutor has purchased tickets for both of them to travel on both the Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines,” the filing reads. “Traveling together to such places as Washington, D.C. or New York City might make sense for work purposes in light of other pending litigation, but what work purpose could only be served by travel to this traditional vacation destinations?”

Aside from Willis’ alleged lack of authority to appoint Wade, Roman claims that the alleged conflict of interest violates his due process and fair trial rights under the Georgia and U.S. constitutions. The filing also alleges that Willis and Wade violated a county rule regarding conflicts of interest, as well as their professional ethical obligations as attorneys. Willis, Roman claims, also violated her oath of office.

Law&Crime reached out to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for comment on this story but no response was immediately forthcoming as of the time of publication.

Read Roman’s full filing below:

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