On the Tuesday, Feb. 13 edition of Georgia Today: The first funeral service is held for one of the three soldiers killed in a recent drone attack in Jordan; affordable housing advocates push for tiny homes in Gwinnett County; and we'll break down the arguments for removing Fani Willis from the election interference case involving former President Trump.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Tuesday, Feb. 13. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, the first funeral services held for one of the three soldiers killed in a recent drone attack in Jordan. Affordable housing advocates push for tiny homes in Gwinnett County, and we'll break down the arguments for removing Fani Willis from the election interference case involving former President Trump. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: Family and friends are gathering in Georgia this week as funerals begin for three Army Reserve soldiers killed in a recent drone attack in Jordan. At a church in Carrollton this morning, Brig. Gen. Todd Lazaroski called Staff Sgt. William Rivers a man of kindness and faith.

Gen. Todd Lazaroski: Staff Sgt. Rivers was more than a fellow soldier. He was a friend, a confidant, and a beacon of positivity in the darkest of times.

Peter Biello: Services for Sgt. Breonna Moffett of Savannah and Sgt. Kennedy Sanders of Waycross are planned for Saturday.


Story 2:

Peter Biello: A federal appeals court has upheld the multiple life sentences given to a man for the fatal bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Eric Rudolph's bid for a new sentence in a ruling yesterday. The three-judge panel ruled Rudolph is bound to the terms of his 2005 plea deal, in which he accepted multiple life sentences to escape the death penalty. Rudolph admitted to carrying out the deadly bombing at the Olympics and three other attacks across the South.


Story 3:

Peter Biello: Affordable housing advocates are working together to develop a community of tiny homes in metro Atlanta's Gwinnett County. GPB's Amanda Andrews reports.

Amanda Andrews: The Gwinnett Housing Corporation and the housing nonprofit MicroLife Institute will sell cottage-style homes of up to 750 square feet to families earning up to 80% of the area's median income. The project is designed to be a step between an apartment and purchasing a single family home. MicroLife executive director Will Johnston says they're using housing density to make the units more affordable.

Will Johnston: If we can use land better and be more creative with how we design and put houses closer together and build in a way that actually fosters community, we can save a lot of money.

Amanda Andrews: Johnston says they hope to secure a piece of property for the project within the next two months. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.


Story 4:

Peter Biello: The state House passed a bill yesterday to bar doctors from denying patients organ transplants solely based on COVID-19 vaccination status. Supporters of the bill say it will end vaccine discrimination, but opponents including Lilburn state Rep. Democrat Jasmine Clark, says it promotes vaccine skepticism and that decisions about who receives an organ are often based on the chances of success.

Jasmine Clark: We do not have an unlimited stockpile of organs waiting for a body to be transplanted into. That's not how organ transplantation works. Instead, there are over 100,000 people waiting.

Peter Biello: The bill passed 98 to 71 and now moves to the Senate for more debate.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: The board that governs Georgia's public colleges has authorized the University of Georgia to establish a medical school. The state Board of Regents gave unanimous approval today to what would be Georgia's second public medical school, located on UGA's campus in Athens. The other is the Medical College of Georgia, based in Augusta. Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials have said a new medical school is needed as Georgia faces a shortage of doctors.

Story 6:

Peter Biello: The U.S. Department of Education is announcing new measures to help colleges speed up the processing of student financial aid forms. The move today responds to frustrating delays in the rollout of a new free application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Financial aid counselor Cathleen Dowis works with 110 high school seniors at Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

Cathleen Dowis: About 60% of my students have completed the FAFSA application. However, the big thing right now is we're waiting for those to process, and that means we're waiting for that information to be sent to schools. We're waiting for them to get their student aid index.

Peter Biello: The information affects how much financial aid colleges offer and ultimately, students choices for higher education. Dowis reassures students they will get the answers they need in time to make those important decisions. The federal agency is reducing certain verification requirements and program reviews so colleges can focus resources on financial aid forms.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: A bestselling cookbook author and James Beard Award-nominated baker will open the doors of her Savannah bakery for one last time tomorrow. Cheryl Day has operated Back in the Day bakery for 22 years, developing a following for buttery biscuits and classic Southern sweets. She's a regular on Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio, airing Sundays on GPB, and was among pioneering business owners in Savannah's rapidly developing Starland district. She and her husband, Griffith Day, said last year they would close Back in the Day permanently after their building sold. In January, the couple announced the building sale and their Valentine's Day final opening date.


Story 8:

Peter Biello: Pennsylvania-based convenience store chain Wawa plans to open its first Georgia location in Pooler, near Savannah. Documents presented to city officials yesterday show a developer plans a 6,000 square foot Wawa with 16 fueling spaces off Interstate 16. With a loyal following based in part on their hoagies and hot food items, the chain has more than a thousand stores concentrated between New York and Virginia, with a significant presence in Florida.

Fani Willis

Fani Willis

Credit: AP Photo/Ben Gray

Story 9:

Peter Biello: Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee says a hearing is necessary to determine if Fulton County DA Fani Willis should be removed from the election interference case involving former President Trump and 18 others. One of the defendants in the case alleged Willis had an improper romantic relationship with fellow prosecutor Nathan Wade, and together they have enriched themselves off the prosecution of the case. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday. With me now to discuss the legal standards involved is Emory law professor John Acevedo. Welcome to the program.

John Acevedo: Thank you so much for having me.

Peter Biello: A defendant in this case, Mike Roman, alleges that Willis hired her romantic partner, Nathan Wade, to work on the election interference prosecution, and they've taken vacations together. Roman argues that that amounts to improper behavior and grounds for Willis's removal. Does this seem like improper behavior to you? Behavior that's that's worthy of being removed from the case?

John Acevedo: It's certainly unusual behavior. I'm not sure it rises to the level of being removed. You need to show some sort of conflict of interest or other impropriety. And a relationship in and of itself isn't enough.

Peter Biello: Overall, how unusual is this kind of accusation?

John Acevedo: For conflict of interest, we're usually looking for conflicts between defense counsel and the district attorney's office. And here all the allegations are within the district attorney's office itself. So if it seems it's a bit unusual, it is a bit unusual, as it goes forward. The other thing I think that the public should keep in mind is the idea that we are looking for not only actual improprieties, but as judge McCarthy pointed out, perceived improprieties. In the area of criminal law, we want justice to be done, but we also want it to be clear justice is being done. So I think we're going to see judgment be err on the side of caution, as it proceeds on Thursday.

Peter Biello: Willis has been subpoenaed, but it's unclear if she's going to testify. That depends on testimony from another witness, how it goes with Terrence Bradley. He is Wade's former law partner and, allegedly, will have some insight into when Willis and Wade started their relationship. In your view, does it matter when they started their relationship?

John Acevedo: The main reason it matters that this is when they started the relationship, is they represented to the court that it happened after his hiring. And if it can be proven that it happened before his hiring, it would indicate that they misrepresented themselves to the court. I think that's the main key here.

Peter Biello: So it's not whether or not it started before or after she hired Wade. It's whether or not she lied about the start after the fact.

John Acevedo: I think that is a more important issue, going on here. There is, of course, the implication that if the relationship was going on before the hiring, that that would taint the hiring in terms of financial improprieties. The more immediate impact that I think is most courts do not like for lawyers to misrepresent themselves to them. So I think that will be the more immediate concern rather than the timing of the relationship.

Peter Biello: Some of the co-defendants have said that Willis should be disqualified because of remarks she made at Big Bethlehem Church that indicated Wade was being targeted because he's Black — being targeted for this criticism because he is, he's Black. They say this could prejudice a jury. Could those remarks have any bearing on this case?

John Acevedo: That seems unlikely. They were one-off remarks, at one event. And they can be screened for voir dire and other questioning of the jury to ensure that there's no prejudice towards the defendants based on race or other animus.

Peter Biello: In other words, you could select a jury that didn't even hear those those comments.

John Acevedo: Exactly or that will ignore them or view them as, non-essential to the case or the defendants.

Peter Biello: I see. If Willis is removed from this case, how will that impact the prosecution of former President Trump?

John Acevedo: It would certainly delay the prosecution, probably well into a late 2024, if not early 2025, to have a new lawyer brought up to speed. Would certainly require multiple months, especially with complex criminal litigation like a RICO case.

Peter Biello: And if she stays on the case, whether she has to testify on Thursday or not, has she sustained some political damage here just by virtue of being accused of these things.

John Acevedo: She's absolutely sustained damage, both to herself politically as a district attorney and her private political career. And also, I think, to the case. The jurors of Fulton County are watching this, and many of them are not going to like the apparent financial improprieties that seem to have gone on related to this prosecution. And that may taint the jury pool against her.

Peter Biello: John Acevedo, thank you so much for speaking with me. Really appreciate it.

John Acevedo: Thank you so much for having me. And I look forward to seeing the hearing on Thursday.


Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit GPB.org/news. And if you haven't subscribed to this podcast yet, do it now. We'll be back in your podcast feed automatically tomorrow. If you've got feedback, we would love to hear from you. Email us. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


For more on these stories and more, go to GPB.org/news.

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