A Georgia judge unsealed a divorce case on Monday that has entangled the Atlanta district attorney prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump, but halted plans to force the testimony of the prosecutor, Fani T. Willis.
One of the parties to the divorce, Nathan Wade, is the lawyer whom Ms. Willis hired to manage the election interference case against Mr. Trump and his allies.
Earlier this month, Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign official who is one of Mr. Trump’s co-defendants, asserted in a filing that the two prosecutors were in a romantic relationship, and that Ms. Willis may have violated laws and ethics rules by hiring Mr. Wade.
The same day, Ms. Willis received a subpoena from Mr. Wade’s wife, Joycelyn Wade, to testify in the divorce case.
While Mr. Roman initially provided no evidence of a relationship, a filing last week in the Wade divorce case included credit card statements showing that Mr. Wade purchased airline tickets for himself and Ms. Willis on April 25, 2023, for a trip from Atlanta to San Francisco, and on Oct. 4, 2022, for a trip to Miami.
The unsealing of the case means that many of Ms. Wade’s ongoing efforts to provide proof of a relationship between her estranged husband and Ms. Willis will now be public. These could include new subpoenas of documents, such as financial statements, and witnesses.
The accusations have not changed the underlying facts in the Trump prosecution. A Georgia grand jury already brought racketeering indictments against Mr. Trump and 18 others over their roles in a plot to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. Four of the defendants have pleaded guilty, including some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest 2020 defenders, the lawyers Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis.
But the accusations could complicate the case considerably. In a letter to Ms. Willis on Friday, the Fulton County commissioner who chairs an audit committee demanded documents in an effort to determine whether county funds paid to Mr. Wade “were converted to your personal gain in the form of subsidized travel or other gifts.”
Mr. Wade has been paid $250 an hour for his work on the case, earning more than $650,000 so far. Mr. Roman’s lawyer has raised questions about any trips that Mr. Wade paid for and took with Ms. Willis, as county officials are prohibited from receiving anything of value from people doing business with the county.
The most immediate challenge to the Trump case, though, is that the presiding judge, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court, will have to rule on Mr. Roman’s motion to disqualify Ms. Willis. Theoretically, he could disqualify not only Ms. Willis but also her entire office.
Clark D. Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, said the latter outcome would be “a disaster for the case, an absolute disaster.”
“Everything is put on hold because there are no attorneys left,” he said.
Though the case could then be assigned to another district attorney in Georgia, that process can stretch on for years. In July 2022, Ms. Willis was disqualified from developing a criminal case against Burt Jones, now Georgia’s lieutenant governor, as part of the Trump prosecution, because of a conflict of interest. A year and a half later, no replacement prosecutor has been named.
Judge McAfee has so far been cautious in his handling of the Trump case, seeking a middle ground in many of his rulings. Regardless, other potential hurdles loom. Among them are calls for a new state board, created to oversee district attorneys, to review Ms. Willis’s conduct. The board, which Ms. Willis and other Democrats fiercely opposed, is likely to weigh in once it is fully up and running.
On Monday, Mr. Roman’s lawyer argued during a brief hearing in suburban Cobb County that the Wade divorce records, sealed since February 2022, had not been sealed properly. Judge Henry R. Thompson of Cobb County Superior Court agreed, unsealing the divorce file.
The unsealed records show a long and contentious divorce case that began on Nov. 2, 2021, the day after Mr. Wade started work as a special prosecutor with Ms. Willis’s office. Numerous documents show that Ms. Wade’s lawyer was frustrated with Mr. Wade’s failure to turn over documents in the divorce case.
In September, Ms. Wade’s lawyers said in a filing that she had “recently learned” that Mr. Wade had taken the job with the district attorney’s office, and that he had earned more than half a million dollars from it. But there was no evidence of the income, or “where the funds have gone,” the filing said.
Other records show that in August, Mr. Wade was held in contempt for his failure to turn over documents in the divorce case, including some regarding his finances.
Ms. Willis’s lawyer, Cinque Axam, argued at Monday’s hearing to keep her out of the divorce case. He said that his client “does not share any accounts” with Mr. Wade and added that Ms. Willis did not have unique insight into the case, and thus should not be deposed.
Andrea Dyer Hastings, Ms. Wade’s lawyer, referred to Ms. Willis as the “alleged paramour of my client’s husband.”
“I want to know about how he’s been spending his money,” Ms. Hastings told the judge. “I have reasons to believe he’s spending it on another woman. That’s my client’s money. And I want to ask questions about that.”
The judge said that because the Wades’ two children are adults, the only issue to determine is how to divide the couple’s money. “What we have here is a math problem,” he said.
He stayed Ms. Willis’s deposition, which had been planned for Tuesday, saying he wished to hear from Mr. Wade first.