Category Archives: conflict of interest laws

“Prosecutor leaves Georgia election case against Trump after relationship with district attorney”


A special prosecutor who had a romantic relationship with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis formally withdrew Friday from the Georgia election interference case against Donald Trump after a judge ruled one of them had to leave for the case to move forward.

Attorney Nathan Wade’s resignation allows Willis to remain on the most sprawling of the four criminal cases against the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election.

But the long-term damage to the public perception of the prosecution remains unclear, particularly in light of Trump’s relentless barrage of attacks on the pair who pledged to hold Trump accountable but found their own actions under a public microscope…

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“Judge rules Fulton DA Fani Willis can stay — if Wade steps aside”


A Fulton County judge on Friday gave District Attorney Fani Willis a stark choice: Either recuse yourself and your office from the election interference case against Donald Trump or cut ties with your lead prosecutor and former lover.

The decision would allow Willis, if special prosecutor Nathan Wade withdraws, to continue prosecuting the case against the presumptive Republican nominee for president and his 14 remaining co-defendants. It also could resolve a disqualification motion that has upended the monumental case for the last two-plus months, turning it into a spectacle with salacious allegations of misconduct against one of the most recognizable DAs in the nation.

“Whether this case ends in convictions, acquittals or something in between, the result should be one that instills confidence in the process,” Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote. “… Any distractions that detract from these goals, if remedial under the law, should be proportionally addressed.”

In a 23-page order, McAfee said he by no means condones Willis’ “tremendous lapse in judgment” for having the relationship with Wade, who has billed more than $728,000 in legal fees that he used to help pay for cruises and vacations he took with the district attorney in 2022 and 2023.

However, in a major finding, the judge said the defense had “failed to meet their burden of proving that the district attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest in this case through her personal relationship and recurring travels with her lead prosecutor.” If McAfee had found otherwise, he would have had to disqualify Willis and her office from the case.

But McAfee did find that “the established record now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team – an appearance that must be removed through the state’s selection of one of two options.”…

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Poor Disclosure from Some State Supreme Courts

Fix the Court release:

State supreme court justices have the power to impact federal elections, redistricting, immigration, reproductive rights, gun rights and more, and yet most states are suppressing information about their top judges — either by making it difficult to obtain financial disclosure reports or requiring little to no information to be disclosed — in a way that shields them from accountability, according to a new report released today by Fix the Court.

In short, 24 of the 48 the states that require annual judicial disclosures don’t post their justices’ reports online, and 30 require less information to be disclosed than what the federal judiciary requires…..

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“Justice Clarence Thomas was the deciding vote in a case he never should have heard”

Kimberly Atkins Stohr Boston Globe column:

Even before the Supreme Court practically nullified the 14th Amendment’s clause banning insurrectionists and their supporters from seeking federal office, another decision all but ensured that outcome. And it was made by a single justice: Clarence Thomas….

And he should have played no part in the case’s consideration.

That’s because on that Jan. 6, in the crowd of onlookers who descended on the nation’s capital and gathered at the Ellipse at Trump’s invitation — “will be wild!” he promised — was Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the justice’s wife.

We would later learn that Ginni Thomas had also lobbied dozens of state lawmakers to choose fraudulent presidential electors and texted Trump’s chief of staff to urge him to “release the Kraken” and embrace the conspiracy theories of attorney Sidney Powell, who now stands criminally convicted for her efforts in the scheme.

These facts led to numerous calls for Thomas to recuse himself from the Colorado ballot case.

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“Fani Willis admits relationship with prosecutor on Trump Georgia case”


Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) admitted she had a personal relationship with an outside prosecutor she appointed to manage the election interference case against former president Donald Trump and his allies but denied claims that the relationship had tainted the proceedings.

In a 176-pagecourt filing on Friday, Willis called the claims against her “meritless” and “salacious” asked a judge to reject motions from Trump and other co-defendants that seek to disqualify her and her office from the case and to do so without a hearing. She denied claims of misconduct and said there was no evidence that the relationship between her and special prosecutor Nathan Wade had prejudiced the case.

Willis’s response came more than three weeks after MikeRoman, one of Trump’s remaining 14 co-defendants in the criminal case and a former high-ranking campaign aide during the 2020 election, alleged in a court filing that Willis was engaged in a “personal, romantic relationship” with Wade, whose firm has been paid more than $653,000 by the district attorney’s office since he was tapped as an outside prosecutor on the case in November 2021.

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“Prosecutor on Trump Georgia Case Avoids Testifying in Divorce Proceeding”


The special prosecutor leading the election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump will not have to testify this week about an alleged romantic relationship with his boss, Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, after reaching a temporary agreement in his divorce case on Tuesday.

The agreement between the special prosecutor, Nathan J. Wade, and his wife, Joycelyn Wade, leaves unanswered for the time being a question that has created potential peril for Ms. Willis’s high-profile prosecution of Mr. Trump and 14 of his allies.

Ms. Willis hired Mr. Wade, a lawyer in private practice, in 2021 to help run the Trump case, saying that she needed a trustworthy confidant for the job. But a filing three weeks ago from one of Mr. Trump’s co-defendants, Michael Roman, claimed that the two prosecutors were romantically involved and had taken vacations paid for by Mr. Wade.

Mr. Roman argues that this amounts to a conflict of interest, and is grounds for removing both prosecutors, as well as Ms. Willis’s entire office, from the case.

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Wisconsin: “Speaker Robin Vos keeps open option of impeaching newly elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos continues to leave the door open to launching impeachment proceedings against state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from lawsuits challenging the state’s electoral maps.

The Rochester Republican raised the possibility earlier this month, adding that he does not take the issue lightly. Since then, behind-the-scenes battles among justices and court employees have escalated with the court’s conservative chief justice accusing its new liberal majority of pulling off “an unprecedented coup.”

Asked about the court during a Tuesday news conference in Oak Creek, Vos told reporters he respects the judiciary’s independence as a co-equal branch of government and said most of the dispute appears to be an internal struggle over how the court should operate.

But asked specifically about the possibility of impeaching Protasiewicz, Vos said it’s “common sense” that she should not rule on a case she has “prejudged.”

In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

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“‘I could sell golf’: How DeSantis and aides courted lobbyists for campaign cash”


When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, his political team made a list of the state’s top 40 lobbyists and about 100 of their “Suggested Clients to target” for political contributions, according to a fundraising document reviewed by The Washington Post.

Next to the name of each lobbyist was a dollar figure, an “ask” that the DeSantis team hoped they would raise based on their book of clients, whose names were also listed in the document and included large corporations such as Disney and Motorola, as well as sports organizations, billionaires and interest groups with extensive business before the state.

The Florida governor’s fundraisers hoped that nine lobbyists would raise at least $1 million each for DeSantis’s political action committee, the state and the Republican Governors Association, according to the document, which was drafted by Heather Barker, a top DeSantis aide and his primary fundraiser, and shared with others.

o help them haul in large sums of money, the document suggested that lobbyists be allowed to offer their clients certain perks, such as meals and rounds of golf with DeSantis, who loves the sport. DeSantis’s fundraisers envisioned that some golf outings with the governor would net contributions of $75,000 or more, according to other emails among DeSantis’s political advisers.

“I could sell golf for $50k this morning,” Barker wrote to other DeSantis aides in a 2019 email obtained by The Post, noting that a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist and his wife wanted to play golf with the recently elected DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis at a course the governor favored. The lobbyist would “get money through a client” to contribute in exchange for golfing with DeSantis, she wrote. It is unclear if the meeting happened. Barker did not respond to a request for comment.

The 2019 document detailed other avenues for securing contributions. “METHODS FOR FIRMS TO DELIVER SUPPORT: Golf, lunch, meetings, dinner, tours, events, etc. — Each have a threshold (ex. Golf $25k per person, which is a deal),” reads the document, whose authenticity was confirmed by multiple people with knowledge of it. Like others interviewed for this story, the people spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

While it is common for politicians to seek donations from lobbyists, the efforts by DeSantis to effectively auction off his leisure time to those seeking to influence state policy created a special pathway of access for wealthy donors to the governor that is striking in the way that it was documented in writing, ethics experts said. The golf-related fundraising was part of a broader push by DeSantis to cultivate relationships with big contributors, some of whom have received state appointments or benefited from state policies, as The Post has previously reported.

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Wisconsin: “Vos says lawmakers may consider impeachment if Protasiewicz doesn’t recuse from redistricting cases”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

If Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz does not recuse from lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative boundaries, Republicans who control the state Legislature might consider impeachment proceedings, the Assembly’s top Republican said Friday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester, said in an interview on WSAU he does not believe impeachment should be considered lightly by lawmakers. But he said the idea could move forward if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself on cases he said she “prejudged” during her campaign for a seat on the state’s highest court.

“If there’s any semblance of honor on the state Supreme Court left, you cannot have a person who runs for the court prejudging a case and being open about it, and then acting on the case as if you’re an impartial observer,” Vos told conservative WSAU host Meg Ellefson when asked whether the Legislature could successfully defend the current boundaries with a liberal-controlled state Supreme Court.

“You cannot have a judge who said, you know, the maps are rigged because she bought into the argument that that’s why we’re winning elections, not the quality of our candidates, and then she sits on that trial acting like she’s gonna listen and hear both sides fairly − that just can’t happen.”

Protasiewicz did not immediately respond to an interview request.

In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

“They do not reflect people in this state. I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” Protasiewicz, a former Milwaukee County judge, said in the January forum. “I can’t tell you what I would do on a particular case, but I can tell you my values, and the maps are wrong.”

Vos suggested if Protasiewicz does not recuse from cases involving the maps, she would violate her oath of office, which might push lawmakers to consider impeaching her.

“I want to look and see, does she recuse herself on cases where she has prejudged? That to me is something that is at the oath of office and what she said she was going to do to uphold the Constitution. That to me is a serious offense.”

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“Trump Team Creates Legal-Defense Fund to Cover His Allies’ Bills”


Former President Donald J. Trump’s team is creating a legal-defense fund to handle some of the crush of legal bills stemming from the investigations and criminal indictments involving him and a number of employees and associates, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The fund, which is expected to be called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc., will be led by Michael Glassner, a longtime Trump political adviser, according to the people familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Another Trump aide who worked at the Trump Organization and then in Mr. Trump’s administration, Lynne Patton, will also be involved, the people said.

It is unclear how broad a group of people the legal-defense fund will cover, but one person said it was not expected to cover Mr. Trump’s own legal bills. In recent months Mr. Trump’s political action committee has paid legal bills for him and several witnesses, spending over $40 million on lawyers in the first half of 2023.

But a wide swath of people have become entangled in the various Trump-related criminal investigations, both as witnesses — of which there are many who work for Mr. Trump personally or did in the White House — as well as defendants….

Last month, Mr. Trump appeared at a fund-raiser at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for a group that assists those arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot and their families. “I’m going to make a contribution,” Mr. Trump told them, according to a video of his remarks. That group’s name, the Patriot Freedom Project, echoes the new name of Mr. Trump’s legal fund.

Mr. Trump had long resisted such an entity. For years, he told people that only guilty people have legal-defense funds.

Mr. Trump, a wealthy businessman, has been using money parked in Save America to pay legal bills for himself and a number of witnesses in the four criminal investigations into his actions in and out of office. Save America was created to house the more than $100 million that Mr. Trump raised shortly after the November 2020 election, as he claimed he needed his supporters’ help to combat widespread voter fraud.

No such widespread fraud was ever proved, but Mr. Trump had tens of millions of dollars at his disposal. He cannot spend the money directly on his 2024 presidential candidacy, but has been using it for legal bills. Last year, he made the $60 million transfer to the super PAC that is backing him, well before the refund request was made.

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Brennan Center: “How a Renewed Code of Ethics Can Strengthen the Election Administration Profession”

The article by Derek Tisler, Ruby Edlin, and Daniel Weiner was originally published in the Journal of Election Administration, Research, and Practice. Here’s the abstract:

Although election officials have successfully managed recent election cycles amidst significant challenges, they have faced a relentless onslaught of attacks fueled by false perceptions about their work. As part of a multifaceted response to these attacks, election officials should elevate the ethical principles that guide their work to safeguard democracy. This can be achieved through the adoption of an expanded code of ethics that seeks to foster professional identity, express shared values, and promote accountability. A profession’s code of ethics establishes a foundation for expected behavior, enabling officials to navigate complex challenges while aligning with their values. Equally important, a code of ethics communicates shared values to the public, enhancing credibility and facilitating explanation of difficult decisions. For this effort to have success, election officials themselves must drive the effort, with the Election Center playing a pivotal role in leading and supporting this vital work.

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“Senators to Propose Ban on U.S. Lawmakers, Executive Branch Members Owning Stock”


Two U.S. senators are set this week to introduce bipartisan legislation to bar members of the federal executive branch and lawmakers from owning stock in individual companies, as new polling shows broad public support for such a measure.

The bill from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) would permit the president, vice president, lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and employees of the executive branch to own mutual funds and broad industry and index funds. 

But it would prohibit them from owning stocks in individual companies, even in blind trusts. 

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