Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is in the national spotlight for her racketeering indictment against former President Donald Trump and 18 of his associates for attempting to reverse the 2020 Presidential election results in Georgia.
Though Willis’s case is the fourth that levies criminal charges against the former President, it is seen as potentially the most potent and compelling.
One former Fulton County prosecutor said this about Willis and her office: “I think people are going to be surprised at the level of preparedness and the level of sophistication of the prosecution,” Clint Rucker told the Associated Press. “That office is not some small backwoods country hick organization that fumbles the ball and doesn’t know how to do its job.”
During a late Monday night press conference, Willis said that Trump and the defendants, including advisors Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows, will have to surrender by August 25 before noon voluntarily.
She also expressed her wish to have a trial date within the next six months.
With the historic magnitude of her sweeping indictment against the former President, we point out five things you should know about Fani Willis.
She is the Daughter of a Black Panther
Born in California and raised in Washington, D.C., Willis was raised by her single dad John Clifford Floyd, a former Black Panther and defense attorney. In an interview with South Atlanta Magazine, Willis said that before her father went to law school, he had been arrested so many times as a young man, “so many times that he couldn’t even tell you…”
However, being arrested as a young Black man in the movement, he noticed that white lawyers would get him and his comrades out of jail, and there weren’t Black lawyers who could help.
“Those Caucasian lawyers saw value in him and his peers. They believed in what they were doing. And it is what ultimately [led] my father to stop being a college professor, you know, in the movement, and go to law school,” Willis told South Atlanta Magazine.
She Has an African Name
Her first name Fani means “prosperous” in Swahili. Her middle name, “Taifa,” means “people.”
Concerning the meaning of her first name, she told South Atlanta Magazine that “We’re not talking about material things in wealth. We’re talking about that stuff that really matters… I always remember my roots, that I come from a prosperous people, which are African people.”
She is a Howard University Alum
Willis would earn her law degree at Emory University in Atlanta. But before that, she earned a bachelor’s in political science and government from Howard University, graduating Cum Laude and belonging to esteemed academic organizations such as the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society and the Golden Key National Honor Society, of which she was President. She also a divorced mother of two grown daughters.
She Has Been Described as ‘A Pitbull’
That’s what one longtime Atlanta homicide detective, who worked with Willis, said about her. “If I committed a crime, I would not want to be prosecuted by Fani Willis.”
There is merit to that description. After Willis worked in private practice, she joined the Fulton County district attorney’s office in 2001, where she handled hundreds of murder cases and a notable cheating scandal.
A colleague told the Associated Press that Willis was “a hard-charging, tough trial lawyer,” adding, “She is a bulldog when she thinks she’s on the right side.”
Willis also became known for employing Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, an analog to the federal RICO provision originally drafted “broadly enough to encompass a wide range of criminal activity, taking many different forms and likely to attract a broad array of perpetrators.”
Her indictment against Trump and his associates is also under the state’s RICO statute.
In 2014, Willis and other prosecutors used the state’s RICO statute against Atlanta educators in a teaching scandal. Eleven defendants were charged with attempting to protect their jobs and earn bonuses by raising test scores, and 21 pleaded guilty, with many of those defendants being Black. At eight months, it was Georgia’s longest criminal trial in history.
“If I committed a crime, I would not want to be prosecuted by Fani Willis.”
“If I committed a crime, I would not want to be prosecuted by Fani Willis.”
As a litigator, Willis developed a reputation for connecting with juries, but one person who covered the cheating trial described her courtroom strategy more vividly.
Willis “began to emerge to me as a distinct part in the prosecution team and someone who was very theatrical,” recalled a reporter who covered the cheating scandal trial and eventually co-wrote a book about it.
“One of her tactics was to really pull on the emotions of the jury. I was surprised by some of the things I was seeing her say in the transcript because of how bombastic it was at the time.”
After that trial, Willis employed the RICO tool more than anyone since being elected as the district attorney.
She is currently in the midst of a RICO trial against Grammy-winning rapper and singer Young Thug, along with his YSL (Young Slime Life) associates.
Criticisms of Willis’s use of the RICO statute are that it overcomplicates cases that could be tried more prudently with fewer resources and, because indictments can take time after someone has been arrested, a detainee could be left to languish in Fulton County Jail, which is under federal investigation for conditions described as violent and filthy. For instance, an independent autopsy revealed that one detainee was eaten alive by bed bugs last year.
As for Willis, she is a bit of an anomaly given that she is a Black woman Democrat in Georgia.
“She’s really a tough-on-crime liberal, which is kind of a rare bird these days, but I think that’s her brand,” a Georgia State University law professor said.
She Won Easily Against Her Former Employer and Mentor
Paul Howard was a six-term incumbent district attorney embroiled in controversy after facing allegations of sexual harassment and financial mismanagement.
Willis ran against Howard during the outset of the pandemic and a period of racial unrest marked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
After advancing to a runoff against the man who was her former employer and mentor, she handily defeated him by almost 40,000 votes in the Democratic primary runoff before running unopposed in the November 2020 general election to win the district attorney seat. With her win, Willis became the first woman elected to that seat in Fulton County.
But her decision to run against Howard wasn’t easy to come by, according to her 2022 interview with South Atlanta Magazine:
When she was approached by various people to run for District Attorney, she needed a higher helping hand because she would have to give up her lucrative private practice. She went to stay in the north Georgia mountains to think it over.
I’m crying ’cause I have all of this pressure. I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do. But I went up there, and I don’t know, I (thought) God would come sit on the bed with me. Tell me something about what I’m supposed to do with my life…I haven’t heard anything. I’ve gone to the mountain (and it was) basically a waste of time. So, I’m crying, and the phone rings. It’s my mentor. … And he said, “You might as well do it.”
It was as if a peace came over me. It was as if God was saying, “Listen, didn’t I tell you this is what you’re supposed to do?”
But it was like that last shake for your hard-headed child. Once I made the decision on that phone call, I was at peace with it. And here I sit.