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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
George Chidi in Atlanta

Fani Willis and Judge Scott McAfee draw challengers in Fulton county primary

a side-by-side image of Fani Willis and Scott McAfee
Fani Willis attends a hearing on the election interference case in Atlanta on 1 March 2024. Judge Scott McAfee presides in court in Atlanta on 27 February 2024. Composite: AP, Reuters

The embattled Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, and Judge Scott McAfee have drawn re-election opponents for the 12 May primary ballot as qualification closes for Georgia’s 2024 election cycle. Willis will also face a Republican in November.

Christian Wise Smith is challenging Willis in the Democratic primary. Smith is an attorney from Sandy Springs, Georgia. and a former prosecutor who came in third in the 2020 race behind Willis and the previous Fulton county district attorney, Paul Howard.

In 2020, Smith’s campaign was to the left of Willis, arguing for an end to death penalty prosecutions, an end to cash bail and the decriminalization of marijuana. He marched with Black Lives Matter activists during the George Floyd protests in Atlanta, and made the prosecution of Atlanta police officers for the fatal shooting of Jimmy Atchison a centerpiece of his campaign. He was also critical of the prosecution of teachers in the Atlanta cheating scandal – a prosecution led by Willis as an assistant district attorney.

In contrast, Willis drew support from moderate Democrats and Republicans – who are often politically irrelevant in deep blue Fulton county – who were deeply dissatisfied with Howard’s approach to prosecution in an environment of rising crime, as well as with allegations of corruption in his office. With nothing else on the ballot, Willis went on to trounce Howard in a runoff that August, replacing a 20-year-incumbent; Smith endorsed Howard.

Republicans will have Courtney Kramer on the general election ballot challenging Willis. Kramer is an Atlanta attorney who assisted the former president Donald Trump’s legal team in Georgia, including working with Trump’s lawyer Ray Smith during the “fake elector” effort that led to the indictment of Trump and 18 others by Willis’s office. Kramer is also the former executive director of True the Vote and represented the organization in court cases against Fair Fight Action, the advocacy organization founded by Stacey Abrams.

Willis has been under legal fire since court filings revealed that she had been in a relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor on the Trump case in Georgia. McAfee is expected to rule next week on whether she and the Fulton county office will remain prosecutors in the trial, or if instead it will be assigned to another prosecutor.

McAfee, who presides over the Trump election interference and racketeering case in Fulton county, faces two challengers from the left: Robert Patillo, a progressive attorney and talkshow host in Atlanta, Tiffani Johnson, a former senior staff attorney for the Fulton county judge Melynee Leftridge.

McAfee, 34, who served as prosecutor both in Fulton county and for the US Department of Justice, is a Federalist Society conservative appointed to the bench by Governor Brian Kemp in 2023. Judicial appointees in Georgia must subsequently run for office in order to fill the remainder of a term.

Patillo, 39, has practiced civil rights law for more than 15 years in Georgia. He also has a long-running radio show on Atlanta’s WAOK, in which his occasionally idiosyncratic political views have an airing.

“There are a lot more things that are broken in the Fulton county court, that deserve attention, more than Fani and the Trump trial,” Patillo said. “There are people who have been in that jail for five years awaiting trial. Anyone who is going to be a judge needs a plan to bring these cases to court.”

Johnson worked for the Davis Bozeman law firm, also notable for civil rights cases in Atlanta.

Judicial races are nonpartisan in Georgia, but Fulton county has a three-to-one Democratic voter advantage.

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