Georgia prosecutor under scrutiny in Trump case was held in contempt last year

Georgia prosecutor under scrutiny in Trump case was held in contempt last year

Just three days after Georgia prosecutors indicted Donald Trump last summer, one of the lead prosecutors on the case faced some legal trouble of his own.

The prosecutor, Nathan Wade, was held in contempt for defying a court order in an acrimonious divorce proceeding with his wife. Wade, a judge in Cobb County, Ga., ruled, had “willfully” failed to turn over documents about his income — including, his wife later said, income from his work on the Trump case.

Wade’s divorce became abruptly intertwined with the Trump prosecution this week, when a lawyer for one of Trump’s co-defendants alleged in a court filing that Wade has been having an affair with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Shortly after the allegation became public, Wade’s wife, Jocelyn, served Willis with a subpoena seeking her testimony in the divorce proceeding.

The lawyer who alleged the affair has not offered proof, and Willis has said she would respond in court documents. A lawyer for Wade declined to comment.

Even aside from the salacious allegation, the contempt ruling against Wade in August 2023 shows that he was fighting his own deeply personal legal battle — and getting admonished by a judge — as he was helping run one of the most consequential criminal cases in American history: the indictment of Trump and numerous allies for their bid to subvert the state’s 2020 election results.

Wade is himself a divorce lawyer — the website for his Atlanta law firm touts “decades of experience” handling divorce cases. He has little experience running complex, high-profile criminal prosecutions, and Willis’ decision to hire him as a “special prosecutor” in the Trump case has come under intense scrutiny in recent days.

It’s unclear if Wade was fined or received any other punishment under the contempt ruling. He appears to have eventually turned over the income documents in question, according to court records.

But any finding of contempt represents a serious and uncommon rebuke from a judge, experts on Georgia family law said.

“This is bizarre,” said Randall Kessler, an Atlanta divorce lawyer who formerly chaired the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. “The judge basically said, ‘Shame on you.’”

“To actually be found in willful contempt, it’s not a good position,” said Yaniv Heled, a professor at Georgia State College of Law who focuses on family law. “It’s not a place where you want to be with the judge.”

A special prosecutor in the spotlight

Wade joined Willis’ team as an outside contractor on Nov. 1, 2021. The next day, he filed for divorce from his wife of more than 24 years, Joycelyn Wade.

In the two years since then, he has been paid nearly $700,000 from the Fulton County district attorney’s office for his work helping to lead the Trump case, according to a court filing from his wife.

On Jan. 8, a lawyer for Mike Roman, a former 2020 Trump campaign official who is charged alongside Trump with a racketeering conspiracy to subvert the election, filed court documents in the criminal case accusing Wade and Willis of having a “clandestine” romantic relationship. Roman’s lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, also alleged that the two used some of Wade’s earnings from the Trump case to vacation together. Merchant is seeking to have Willis and Wade disqualified and to have the case dismissed — an outcome that legal experts say is unlikely. Trump and Roman have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the case, said in court Friday that he expects to hold a hearing on Merchant’s allegations in early February. The case does not yet have a trial date.

In the meantime, the allegations are roiling a sprawling and highly sensitive case. Trump has amplified the allegations on social media, even as his lawyer, Steve Sadow, told the judge that he was “leery” of joining Merchant’s call for Willis’ disqualification. The district attorney herself may become a witness in Wade’s divorce proceeding. And new scrutiny of the legal documents in the divorce — a case file that has since been sealed — offers details about how Wade disobeyed a court order amid a drawn-out dispute over his income.

Throughout 2022 and 2023, lawyers for Wade’s wife accused Wade of failing to turn over documents showing how much money he made — a common exchange of information in divorce proceedings.

The information Wade did provide “was so woefully inadequate as to be useless,” his wife’s lawyers wrote in court papers.

Wade, for his part, said he had provided all required documents. Wade’s lawyer accused Wade’s wife in court papers of “being stubbornly litigious and dragging the matter out for no stated reasons.”

‘Willful contempt’

On May 10, 2023, Judge Henry Thompson, who is overseeing the divorce, concluded that Wade had “inadequately responded” to his wife’s discovery requests. He ordered the prosecutor to turn over a host of financial documents, including all income statements since 2016. If Wade didn’t comply, the judge threatened, he could face contempt and sanctions.

Three months later, the judge determined that Wade hadn’t complied. On Aug. 17, 2023, during the same week that Wade helped obtain an indictment in the Trump case, the judge issued an order finding Wade in “willful contempt” of his directive. If he wanted to avoid sanctions, the order added, he needed to deliver the material within 10 days.

There is no indication in the documents reviewed by POLITICO that Wade was sanctioned.

But over a month later, Wade’s wife moved to reopen discovery — meaning she believed her husband still hadn’t given her all the information she needed.

And, the motion added, she had just learned that her husband was working on the Trump prosecution.

“Plaintiff has not produced one single document evidencing this income,” the motion read. “Plaintiff has not produced one single bank statement indicating where those funds have gone.”

On Oct. 24, 2023, the judge granted her motion to reopen discovery. Less than two months later, Wade’s wife told the divorce court that her husband had earned almost $700,000 for his work on the Trump case since May of 2022. She added that he had given her “nearly nothing” in financial support — a claim that Wade’s lawyers disputed in court papers.

Kessler, the Atlanta divorce lawyer, said it’s unusual for judges to hold people in contempt during divorce proceedings. That’s because they give the parties so many chances to comply.

“It is rare that it gets to this level,” he said.

But Kessler added that he thinks it’s unlikely Wade was scheming to keep his income from the Trump case a secret. That’s because the work was so public-facing, drawing national media attention.

Powered by WPeMatico

Comments are closed.