What Happens if Fani Willis Is Disqualified From the Trump Case?

The stakes will be high on Thursday when a judge in Atlanta seeks to determine whether the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, should be disqualified from leading the prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump on election interference charges.

If Judge Scott McAfee determines that Ms. Willis has a conflict of interest because of her romantic relationship with the prosecutor she hired to manage the case, and that it merits disqualification, his decision would, by extension, disqualify her entire office.

The case would then be reassigned to another Georgia prosecutor, who would have the ability to continue with the case exactly as it is, make major changes — such as adding or dropping charges or defendants — or to even drop the case altogether. The latter decision would end the prosecution of Mr. Trump and his allies for their actions in Georgia after the 2020 election, when the former president sought to overturn his loss in the state.

It would be up to a state entity called the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to find someone else to take up the case. More specifically, the decision would fall to the council’s executive director, Pete Skandalakis, an experienced former prosecutor.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Skandalakis said that he could ask a prosecutor to take on the Trump case voluntarily. But he could also appoint a prosecutor to do the job — whether they wanted to or not.

Mr. Skandalakis said he could also try to find a lawyer in private practice to replace Ms. Willis. But that is an unlikely scenario, he said, because he could only pay such a lawyer roughly $70 per hour.

Mr. Skandalakis’s options may be limited, because few prosecutors’ offices in Georgia have the size, or the budgets, to try a complex racketeering case that targets 15 defendants, among them a former president of the United States and his former chief of staff.

Picking a replacement would also be a politically complicated decision sure to raise the hackles of partisans in one party or another. Two of the larger district attorney’s offices in the state — with staffs and budgets that might be able to handle the Trump case — are those in DeKalb and Cobb counties, which cover populous swathes of the Atlanta suburbs. Those offices are currently headed by Democrats.

Mr. Skandalakis, a Republican, could also theoretically choose to appoint himself as the new prosecutor.

Mr. Skandalakis is considered to be fair-minded by a number of prominent Georgia Democrats. But he has also been criticized for moving slowly in the effort to find a prosecutor to consider whether Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, should face charges related to the Trump case.

A judge in July 2022 blocked Ms. Willis from developing a case against Mr. Jones, who served as a fake pro-Trump elector, because Ms. Willis had hosted a fundraiser for one of Mr. Jones’s political rivals. No replacement prosecutor has been named.

This week, Mr. Skandalakis declined to say how quickly he would be able to find a replacement for Ms. Willis in the Trump case, if it were necessary.