Fulton County, Georgia State Attorney Fani Willis took office on January 3, 2021 pledging to restore integrity to her district. That same day it came to light that, 24 hours earlier, the then-outgoing president of the United States, Donald Trump, had phoned a senior state official, Brad Raffensperger, to ask him to “find” a sufficient number of votes to turn the tide. official result, which gave Democrat Joe Biden the winner, and proclaim Trump the winner in that state in the 2020 presidential elections.
In less than a month, the first black woman to head the Fulton prosecutor’s office – the most populous county in Georgia and which includes its capital, Atlanta – had already filled the offices of authorities and election officials with letters warning them to keep all the documents they may have on possible attempts to alter the results of those elections. “From day one I knew that she could deserve an investigation,” she declared in 2022 to the USA Today newspaper. “That phone call was enough to cause concern.”
The investigation that was opened then, two and a half years ago, extended well beyond that call between Trump and Raffensperger. He has examined a plot to impersonate official voters by supporters of the former president and now a new Republican candidate: harassment of electoral officials; including illegal access to the computer systems of electronic voting machines in a rural county with a conservative majority. The result: the fourth indictment against Trump in the most detailed case of the four he is facing and which attributes 41 charges to him and 18 collaborators and supporters. The use of the law against organized crime for this equates the real estate magnate with a mafia boss.
Throughout the investigation, Willis, 52, divorced and mother of two daughters, has received criticism that she exceeded her powers, all kinds of threats and various insults, anonymous or not: Trump refers to her in such a way with terms like “lunatic Marxist”, “racist” and “phony”, and has accused her, without proving it, of having ties to gangsters. The prosecutor has to travel with an escort.
The case against the current presidential candidate – favorite in the Republican Party to contest the White House in 2024 – is the largest, but it is not the only one against celebrities that Willis has undertaken. He has also investigated hip-hop stars like Young Thug and the Drug Rich Gang.
She, of Democratic affiliation, assures that her passion for justice moves her. “My career has taught me that whatever the political pressure, you have to do the right thing,” she said. She also maintains that she does not take into account whether the person she imputes is influential or not. “Justice is a blind lady. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, Democrat or Republican. If you have broken the law, charges are going to be brought against you,” she told CNN.
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Strict, meticulous and a workaholic
Those who know her describe her as strict, meticulous and a workaholic, who prepares her cases exhaustively. An ambitious professional and very little tolerant of failures. She is just as easy to connect with jurors, witnesses, and police officers as she is to lash out at those she believes are blocking her investigations. Her critics reproach her for her taste for giving statements to the press; she counters that transparency is one of the requirements of her position.
Interest in law runs in the family. Born in California, Willis grew up in Washington, with a father who was a lawyer and, according to her, a member of the leftist organization Black Panthers, who frequently took her to court. She remembers how, at the age of eight, she was already in charge of classifying files.
He studied first at Howard University in Washington and then at Emory University Law School in Atlanta, where he would eventually settle. After a few years in the private sector, in 2001 she began working at the Fulton District Attorney’s Office as an Associate Counsel. In 2020, her bid to head the office beat out that of the then incumbent and her former mentor, Paul Howard, in a fiercely contested primary.
One of his specialties is the law against organized crime and corrupt associations, known by its acronym in English, RICO. Conceived for the fight against gangs and the mafia, Willis has resorted to it frequently. “She’s really a tough progressive against crime, which is rare these days, but I think it’s her trademark,” Georgia State University Law Professor Anthony Michael Kreis described her to the AP agency. .
His critics say he abuses RICO and other organized crime laws, when he could apply simpler laws, just because the anti-mob rule carries harsher penalties. They also argue that such practices lengthen the time defendants spend awaiting trial.
The more tests the better
Her defenders describe a thorough attorney, who would rather spend time completing a thorough investigation than hastily press charges and fail. She acknowledges that she doesn’t like “skinny cases” and she prefers to accumulate the more evidence the better.
“The way he tackles cases (is) he starts at the beginning and dives right in. He follows all the leads he can,” Charlie Bailey, a former prosecutor’s collaborator, told CNN television.
After indicting the former president and his collaborators on Monday, Willis has given them until Friday the 25th to appear in court and have the charges read to them. The prosecutor has proposed to start the trial on March 4 of next year, something that, given Trump’s busy judicial calendar and the proximity of the electoral campaign, can be complicated.
Willis maintains that he will treat the president like any other citizen. “I do not have the right to look the other way from a crime that could have impacted an important right for this community and for the entire nation,” he told The New York Times in September of last year.
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