Trump wants to appeal Georgia ruling that kept prosecutor on his case

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump hosts a campaign rally, in Rome, Georgia

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) -Donald Trump on Monday asked a Georgia judge to allow him to appeal a ruling keeping the lead prosecutor on the state's criminal case against the former U.S. president over his attempts to overturn his election defeat.

The filing by Trump, the Republican presidential challenger, and several of his co-defendants, continues their effort to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over allegations that she received an improper financial benefit from a romance with a special prosecutor assigned to the case.

The appeal could give Trump another opportunity to delay the case, a primary legal strategy as he faces four simultaneous criminal prosecutions while seeking a return to the White House. Trump has so far succeeded in delaying the start of all of the trials.

Lawyers for Trump and eight co-defendants wrote in the filing that the disqualification issue is "of the utmost importance to this case" and said it was "paramount" that a state appeals court weighs in before a trial.

A spokesperson for Willis' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee ruled on March 15 that Willis and her office could continue prosecuting the case as long as her former romantic partner Nathan Wade stepped aside, which Wade agreed to do. McAfee found that the relationship had not created a conflict of interest requiring disqualification, but he criticized the prosecutors for a “tremendous lapse in judgment.”

McAfee will need to give permission for Trump and his co-defendants to immediately appeal the ruling and a state appeals court would then have to agree to take the case. If the appeals court agrees to decide the issue, Trump could ask to pause the case in its entirety during the appeal, which would likely take months to resolve.

If the appeals court does not accept the case now, Trump and his co-defendants could raise the issue again after a trial.

The disqualification bid has already sidetracked the election interference case since January when Trump co-defendant Michael Roman revealed that Willis and Wade had vacationed together while Wade was paid by the government for his work on the case.

Willis and Wade acknowledged the relationship but denied that either received an improper benefit or tainted the prosecution.

Trump and 14 co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other charges stemming from what prosecutors allege was a scheme to overturn Trump’s narrow defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election. Four people initially charged have pleaded guilty.

A trial date has not yet been set.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)