Voters to decide whether Fani Willis and judge in Georgia Trump election case keep their jobs

Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, and Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee are both on the ballot for Tuesday’s primary election.

ATLANTA (AP) — Voters will decide whether two key players in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump will keep their jobs.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee are both on the ballot for Tuesday’s election. Willis is the prosecutor who last year obtained a sprawling racketeering indictment against Trump and 18 others, and McAfee is the judge who was randomly assigned to preside over the case.

Willis has a single challenger in the Democratic primary and, if she wins, will face off against a Republican candidate in the fall. McAfee has one opponent — after a second was disqualified — in a nonpartisan contest that will be the final word on whether he gets to keep his seat.

The intense public interest in the election case has thrust both Willis and McAfee into the national spotlight, giving them greater name recognition than occupants of their offices might otherwise have. That, along with the advantages of incumbency and fundraising hauls that have far surpassed their challengers, could give each of them an edge on Tuesday.

Whether they win or lose, Willis and McAfee will remain in office through the end of this year, when their current terms expire. If either ends up getting ousted from office, it could further slow the election interference case, which has already been delayed by attempts to remove Willis from the prosecution.

Willis and her progressive Democratic opponent, Christian Wise Smith, both worked in the Fulton County district attorney’s office under then-District Attorney Paul Howard. They both challenged their former boss in the Democratic primary in 2020. Willis and Howard advanced to a runoff that she won, and she ran unopposed in the November general election that year.

Wise Smith has said that as district attorney he would focus on victims, work to end mass incarceration and target the school-to-prison pipeline. When he filed the paperwork to run, he told reporters he was keeping his options open, but he has since embraced his campaign, doing interviews and showing up at candidate events.

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Courtney Kramer is running unopposed in the Republican primary and has already been focusing her attention on attacking Willis. A lawyer who interned in the Trump White House, she has ties to some of the former president’s prominent allies in Georgia.

While the Trump election case and racketeering cases against well-known rappers have boosted Willis’ public profile, her campaign has focused her efforts to reduce a staggering case backlog that existed when she took office, fight gang violence and catch at-risk youth before they get caught up in the criminal justice system.

In what many have seen as a major misstep, she engaged in a romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired for the election case. Claims by defense attorneys in the case that the romance created a conflict of interest threatened to derail the prosecution.

McAfee ultimately ruled that it did not create a conflict of interest that should disqualify Willis, but he said she could only continue the case if the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, stepped aside. Wade promptly left the case, but a defense appeal of McAfee’s ruling is now pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In just over a year on the bench, the election case has made McAfee one of the more recognizable judges in Georgia. He previously worked as both a federal and a state prosecutor and as state inspector general. He was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to fill an empty seat and has been vigorously campaigning in recent weeks to win a full four-year term. His campaign has drawn support from a bipartisan slate of heavy hitters, including Kemp and former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat.

Robert Patillo, a civil rights attorney and media commentator, has stressed “competency, compassion and change” in his campaign to replace McAfee. He has shied away from directly attacking McAfee, but has stressed the importance of a varied background and said the “prosecutor-to-judge pipeline” can lead to biases.

Tiffani Johnson, who has worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, had also filed paperwork to challenge McAfee. But she was disqualified after she failed to show up for a hearing on a challenge to her eligibility. After a judge upheld that disqualification, she asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in, but the high court has yet to act.