After testifying in Atlanta, Willis received both praise and condemnation

It was a rare point of consensus in the case Georgia prosecutors brought against former President Donald J. Trump: Fulton County District Attorney Fannie T. Willis was probably wrong to have a romantic relationship with a colleague.

But the deal ends there.

As people in Atlanta and its suburbs digested the riveting and emotional testimony, what they saw was not just Ms. Willis’ behavior, but a test of their views on race, gender, justice and the city they call home.

Ms. Willis’s harshest critics, who support the former president, relished what they saw as a blunder that could distract her from the case — jeopardizing, if not completely torpedoing, a prosecution that some legal experts consider one of the strongest against Mr. Trump.

The biggest fear of some of her supporters is that those critics are right.

“I just wish she had made better decisions,” said Andrea Maia, a recent college graduate who lives in Atlanta and who is otherwise sympathetic and supportive of Ms. Willis. “I wouldn’t do that.”

The testimony came as part of a hearing this week to decide whether Ms. Willis’ romantic and financial relationship with Nathan Wade, the outside lawyer she hired to help lead the prosecution, constituted a conflict of interest and should be removed from the case.

The hearing — and the broader turbulence over the relationship — was closely watched by many in Fulton County, who would serve on the jury in the trial and ultimately decide whether Ms. Willis, who is up for re-election, remains in office.

But the reaction to her testimony — which she decided to give despite the doubts of some colleagues — also caused sympathy and more support, as many believe that she should stay on the case and that her personal life should not be so colorful.

“I think some people will probably come out of this testimony with more faith in Fanny Willis,” said Adrienne Jones, a political science professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, who watched the testimony and was disturbed by the spectacle surrounding it.

“She dared to break through and said I’m going to speak for myself here and tell you what’s going on,” Professor Jones said. “Some will respect that.”

Jessica Browne, who lives in Atlanta, said she is one of them.

She admitted she knew little about Ms. Willis or the finer points of the case that accuses Mr. Trump and his allies of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.

“I appreciate the way she defended herself,” Ms Browne, 42, said.

“She did not break any law,” she added. “Donald Trump did.”

The hearing came with high stakes as many Trump opponents fear the prosecution could collapse if Ms. Willis is removed and the case reassigned to another prosecutor from Georgia, who could modify the case or drop it altogether.

“I think a lot of people see this case as one of the strongest, if not the strongest, against Trump,” said Zachary Peskowitz, an associate professor of political science at Emory.

If Ms. Willis is removed from the case and does not move forward as Trump’s critics hope, the outcome could have disastrous political consequences for Ms. Willis. “It will be devastating,” he said.

But even if Ms. Willis stays, some fear that attention to the relationship and allegations of impropriety could undermine the prosecution.

“It casts doubt on the members of the Fulton County jury, it casts doubt on the prosecution process,” Professor Jones said. She added: “These are all negatives that distract us from whether under Georgia law the former president and his colleagues have the right to behave the way they did.”

Chris Sandbach, a personal injury attorney, called the hearing a “political circus.” He said he did not believe there was “any objective evidence of any wrongdoing”.

“This was a public smear, for lack of a better word,” he said. “This is not defense, this is politics.”

But Scottie Dennis, Jr., 39, believes the entire prosecution is motivated by politics and animosity toward Mr. Trump.

“Everybody and their mom knows, as we say here in the South, if he didn’t run for re-election, there wouldn’t be a lawsuit against him,” said Mr. Dennis, a Mr. Trump supporter who lives in Northwest Atlanta.

Ms. Willis’s opponents who are enjoying the situation are not only political, but also the kind of enemies prosecutors are making at work, such as Latasha Kendrick, the mother of Yak Gotti, one of the rappers charged in the racketeering case Ms. Willis brought against YSL, the rap label. prosecutors characterized as a gang.

“He’s going to try his medicine soon,” Ms. Kendrick said as she watched the hearing from an Atlanta court. “He doesn’t look like the big bad wolf now.”

Some argue that Ms. Willis faced additional scrutiny because of her race and gender.

“If she wasn’t a woman and Black, I don’t think she would have gone through this,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgia, who has been a vocal ally of Ms. Willis has both prayed with her and counseled her privately in recent weeks.

“This was about distraction and delay,” he said. “I think it’s time to move on.”

Kamina Pinder, a law professor at Emory University, agreed that Ms. Willis should not be disqualified, but found her actions — including an affair with a lawyer who works for her — troubling.

“Everything she does is going to be scrutinized, so for her to do this is just bizarre,” Professor Pinder said. “As a black woman, I know there are unique challenges when you’re in a position of power, but that doesn’t excuse behavior that was questionable and unethical.”

Devon Rogers, 37, a musician who recently moved to Atlanta from Memphis, says the circumstances confirm that romance can give way to reckless choices.

In newspaper reports, he saw questions about the qualifications of Mr. Wade for that position. “I don’t know if that’s true,” he said. “But how can she even risk putting it up there?”

Her actions, he said, could damage the case and give Mr. Trump’s lawyers material that could help him avoid a conviction.

“Should she be disqualified? I can’t say,” Mr. Rogers said. “But I think she was her own worst enemy.”

Leave a Comment