Georgia election case halted as court weighs Fani Willis appeal

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears in a courtroom on Jan. 24, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Updated Wednesday, June 5 at 4:36 p.m.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has stayed trial court proceedings in the Georgia election case involving former President Trump and other defendants.

That means case will mostly grind to a halt until October or later as the appeals court weighs whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can remain on case, all but guaranteeing the case will not go to trial before the presidential election. The appeals court has tentatively scheduled arguments for Oct. 4.

A three-judge panel will decide whether Willis can continue prosecuting Trump and more than a dozen others accused of trying to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election result.

Earlier this year, Fulton Superior Judge Scott McAfee allowed Willis to remain on the case after several defendants accused her of a conflict of interest due to her personal relationship with the top prosecutor she hired for the probe.

Under the conditions of the ruling, the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, resigned from the case. 

Trump and the other defendants proceeded to appeal, and the court agreed to take up the request.

The appellate judges can decide whether or not to hold oral arguments before ruling on the matter. They have until March 2025, or two court terms, to issue a decision. All three judges are appointees of Republican governors. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Judge Benjamin Land, while Former Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Judges Todd Markle and Trent Brown. 

The appeals court will decide whether the trial court applied Georgia law correctly. Legal scholars disagree on the standard Georgia law requires for determining what constitutes a disqualifying conflict of interest for prosecutors.

A New York jury found Trump guilty on 34 felony counts last week, but pending criminal cases in Georgia, Washington, D.C. and Florida appear unlikely to go to trial before the November election.

Until this week, pre-trial hearings had been continuing. Defendant Harrison Floyd, the former leader of Black Voices for Trump, is accused of trying to pressure an election worker into falsely admitting she committed fraud. Floyd continued his novel legal strategy of attempting to prove the 2020 election was, in fact, stolen. Multiple recounts, audits and investigations have found no evidence of widespread fraud. 

Proceedings involving Republican State Sen. Shawn Still, who signed onto a slate of electors for Trump after Joe Biden won Georgia and is facing seven felonies, resumed after a pause during the legislative session. Still is asking a judge to toss criminal charges against him.