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Fani Willis challenges open records lawsuit seeking White House communications

Fani Willis’ prosecutors claim immunity from open records lawsuits, White House communications protected under Georgia law.

Published: April 15, 2024 11:00pm

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office claimed in court papers that it is “an entity not capable of being sued” and has moved to dismiss an open records lawsuit from Just the News to obtain communications between her office and the Biden White House.

The district attorney’s office cites unsettled immunities under Georgia law and claims the records requested are “statutorily exempt from disclosure under the Open Records Act,” according to the court filing earlier this month.

In February, the legal foundation representing Just the News — America First Legal (AFL) — filed a complaint in Fulton County, Georgia in an effort to compel the district attorney’s office to produce records requested in an open records request.

In January, Just the News submitted a request to D.A . Willis’ office after reports emerged that the special prosecutor she had appointed to handle the 2020 election interference case against former President Donald Trump had met with Biden White House officials.

Just the News requested records of any meetings and any communications between Willis, or her special prosecutor Nathan Wade, and White House and Justice Department officials.

Now, Willis’ office seeks to avoid the lawsuit and disclosure, arguing that it is an entity which cannot be sued under Georgia law—mirroring a similar claim by Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez whose case is sub judice before the Georgia Supreme Court. That high court is expected to answer this very question.

“Plaintiff’s Complaint against the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office should be dismissed as a matter of law because the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is not an entity that can be sued,” the Fulton County District Attorney’s office claimed in its April filing, citing a handful of state cases.

You can read the court filing here:

Willis’ office argued that it did not meet the criteria of individuals or entities under Georgia law that are capable of being sued and called for the lawsuit to be dismissed on those grounds.

The AFL has challenged this argument in an amicus brief submitted in the case against District Attorney Gonzalez last week. In the brief, the foundation argued the Georgia Open Records Act clearly applies to “Every state department, agency, board, bureau, office, commission, public corporation, and authority,” according to Georgia statutes.

Additionally, the Georgia Open Records Act also includes specific exceptions for records gathered as part of a prosecution, which AFL argues shows state district attorneys were intended to be subject the law, the foundation explained in a press release last week.

You can read AFL’s amicus brief below:

Just the News’ request to Willis’ office followed reports the special prosecutor assigned to the election interference case against Donald Trump—Nathan Wade—met with Biden White House officials. The record of these meeting emerged in court filings which cited information from Wade’s divorce proceedings.

Then in a January hearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, the district attorney’s office admitted it had communicated with the White House in two written letters about “logistics and procedures.” Just the News made its Open Records request before any investigation into Willis was announced. 

Despite admitting the existence of at least some public records, Willis’ office told Just the News in a response to its records request that no records of meetings or communications between Willis or Wade and White House or Justice Department officials existed that were not exempt from disclosure.

Willis’ office asserted Georgia law did not require it to provide documents responsive to Just the News’ request, arguing the records fall under the immunity exemptions listed in the statute.

“The Open Records Act does not require the disclosure of ‘[r]ecords of law enforcement, prosecution, or regulatory agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity,’” the prosecutors wrote in the court filing.

Willis’s office argues any communication between Willis and Wade and Biden administration officials would fall under this exemption because they are part of a “currently pending investigation and prosecution.”

The reports of the district attorney’s office communication with the White House have largely been overshadowed by the allegations that Willis was previously engaged in an improper romantic relationship with special prosecutor Wade.

One of the codependents in the case against Trump filed a motion for Willis to be disqualified because of the alleged improper romantic and financial relationship: Wade was paid nearly $654,000 in legal fees and he subsequently paid for himself and Willis to go on vacations, according to the motion.

AFL has not yet filed a motion opposing Willis' request to keep public records hidden from public view. 

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