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Judge in Trump Georgia case orders hearing on Fani Willis misconduct claims

Former U.S. President Trump holds a campaign rally ahead of New Hampshire primary election, in Atkinson

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) -A judge in the Georgia election interference case against former U.S. President Donald Trump has set a hearing next month over accusations that the Fulton County district attorney and a top deputy had an improper relationship and mishandled public money, according to a court filing.

In a Thursday order, Judge Scott McAfee set a Feb. 15 hearing to discuss allegations by a Trump co-defendant who accused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of engaging in an "improper, clandestine personal relationship," with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The filing by Michael Roman cites unnamed sources and sealed records in Wade's ongoing divorce case.

A representative for Willis did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Willis' spokesperson previously said the district attorney's office would respond to the accusations through court filings.

A lawyer for Willis said in a Thursday court filing in Wade's divorce case that Wade's estranged wife, Joycelyn Wade, is using court documents to "annoy, embarrass and oppress" Willis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, citing a court document that the paper posted online.

The records in that case are sealed, and Reuters could not obtain the document.

Willis' lawyer could not be reached for comment, and Wade did not immediately respond to a voicemail left with his office.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused along with 18 co-defendants of seeking to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state to President Joe Biden.

Trump and Roman have both pleaded not guilty.

Roman's filing claims Wade, a private attorney appointed by Willis to assist in the case, is not qualified for his role and been paid roughly $1 million, citing invoices attached as exhibits.

Trump often uses his legal travails to rally supporters and raise money for his campaign, denouncing the four criminal cases he faces as political witch hunts.

While he has not yet moved to disqualify Wallis, Trump will almost certainly cite the misconduct allegations as he seeks to discredit the case.

It would not end the case if McAfee disqualifies Willis, though it could lead to delays that might be helpful for Trump.

“They would probably appoint another prosecutor from a different county, so it wouldn’t mean the case is thrown out,” said Jerry Froelich, a Georgia criminal defense attorney who is not involved in the case.

Trump has separately been indicted in Washington for his efforts to reverse his election loss, in Florida for mishandling of classified documents upon leaving office and in New York for hush money payments to a porn star.

He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in Ketchum, Idaho; Additional reporting by Jasper Ward in Washington; Editing by Susan Heavey, Lisa Shumaker and Noeleen Walder)