Fani Willis, speech2, judge

Community Reacts To Judge’s Criticism Of Fani Willis’ ‘Moving’ Speech

Fani Willis' touching speech at Big Bethel AME Church during its Martin Luther King Jr. celebration service drew the ire of a judge, but the surrounding community doesn't feel likewise.

Fulton County, Georgia, residents are responding to a judge’s comments regarding District Attorney Fani Willis’s speech at Big Bethel AME Church. 

In his March 15 ruling on whether Willis can continue prosecution in the 2020 presidential election interference case, Judge Scott McAfee mentioned Willis’s speech at the historic church in January 2024. While calling her remarks “legally improper,” the judge warned of a potential gag order against Willis in the future.

“Providing this type of public comment creates dangerous waters for the District Attorney to wade further into,” McAfee wrote. 

Now, the community is buzzing about whether the judge’s remarks were necessary. “I was surprised that he admonished her at the church because it wasn’t directly about these defendants,” Emory Law Associate Professor John Acevedo said. 

Church parishioner Keith Burnett said he was at the service the day Willis spoke and was moved by her words. “She talked about demons. She talked about darkness,” Burnett mentioned. “She talked about the fact that she’s doing her job and did everything in her power to pick the right people.” 

Willis served as the speaker for the church’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration service. During her time on the pulpit, she addressed issues surrounding the hearing and the challenges she faced both personally and professionally. “I appointed three special counsels as is my right to do, but they only attacked one,” Willis said at the time. 

The judge saw such remarks as Willis projecting she and Wade were being scrutinized because of their race. The DA said she wasn’t referring to the defendants in her accusations of racism, but McAfee warned that it wasn’t clear enough to make that distinction.

“In these public and televised comments, the District Attorney complained that a Fulton County Commissioner ‘and so many others’ questioned her decision to hire SADA Wade. When referring to her detractors throughout the speech, she frequently utilized the plural ‘they,'” he wrote, according to Fox 5 Atlanta. “The State argues the speech was not aimed at any of the Defendants in this case. Maybe so. But maybe not. Therein lies the danger of public comment by a prosecuting attorney.” 

He added that Willis’ reference to “so many others” in her speech at the church came too close to compromising the case.

Ultimately, McAfee’s decision to keep Willis on the case as long as Wade stepped down has received praise from community members. “I think his decision really reflects his desire to end distractions in this case,” Acevedo said. 

Following the ruling, Wade resigned effective immediately.