Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis unveiled a grand jury’s charges against former President Donald Trump and 18 others as part of a wide-ranging RICO case. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office remains committed to its longshot plans of prosecuting former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants at the same time next month in the broad racketeering 2020 election interference case.
District Attorney Fani Willis argued on Tuesday that the 2024 Republican primary front runner and his co-defendants have not carried the burden needed to try their cases separately under their indictment charging them with conspiring to illegally disrupt Georgia’s 2020 election and overturn President Joe Biden’s win. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee scheduled the trials for attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell to begin on Oct. 23 after he last week rejected their requests to be tried separately.
Fulton prosecutors are pushing to try all 19 defendants simultaneously on Oct. 23 and predicted last week that 150 witnesses would be called to the stand over the course of four months.
“Any defendant seeking a severance on the basis of not being ready for trial by Oct. 23 should inform this court on the record of when they expect to be ready for trial,” the district attorney’s brief said.
The request by Willis and her team of prosecutors to begin the trial in October for every defendant is a tall order.
Powell and Chesebro’s trials were scheduled so quickly because the two demanded a speedy trial, which gives defendants the right to have their cases heard within a reasonable amount of time. According to Georgia’s speedy trial law, Powell and Chesebro’s trials must begin by Nov. 6.
McAfee said that timing the court proceedings to start next month makes it much more challenging to try defendants together since they are all charged with the same offense.
“I’ll reiterate there’s no good reason to expect a 19-defendant trial in this case, much less in October,” McAfee said last week.
Willis initially filed a request that Trump and his 18 co-defendants stand trial in March, or roughly seven months after handing down a 91-count indictment that accuses the 45th president of being one of the ringleaders in the 2020 election conspiracy.
Both Trump’s attorneys and his former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have sought to sever their cases saying a strong defense would take more than six weeks prior to Oct. 23.
The joint trials for the 19 defendants allow for an efficient use of resources when the same evidence and witnesses are applicable to all defendants, special prosecutor Nathan Wade said last week.
“There are victims in this case that were targeted by members of this enterprise and their lives were turned upside down,” Wade said at the Sept. 6 hearing for Chesebro and Powell. “Having those people come testify multiple times over and over would not only inconvenience them but traumatize them.”
On Aug. 14, Trump, members of his inner circle and other allies were indicted on felony charges of violating Georgia’s RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), attempting to solicit elected officials, making false statements and other criminal offenses.
Among the 19 people charged under the RICO Act include former Trump attorney John Eastman, ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and several false Electoral College voters, including freshman GOP state Sen. Shawn Still, a Norcross Republican, and David Shafer, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman and state legislator.
Trump and Meadows’ attorneys on Wednesday waived their rights to a speedy trial in exchange for separating their trials from those of the other defendants. Their co-defendants Still, Shafer, Harrison Floyd, and Jenna Ellis followed suit.
Prosecutors have argued that if McAfee severs the trials it will result in a flood of speedy trial requests from defendants.
The charges against Chesebro are related to his role in developing the strategy for implementing false GOP electors in Georgia and several other states who would cast votes in favor of Trump despite Biden’s victory.
The Texas-based attorney Powell faces several felony counts for allegedly helping hire a team of computer forensic experts involved in a Coffee County voting system breach that occurred weeks after the 2020 election.
The Fulton prosecutor’s court filing on Tuesday follows one by Meadows on Friday appealing U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones rejection of Meadows’ bid to move his case to federal jurisdiction.
Meadows’ attorneys have argued that he was lawfully acting as a federal officer in the aftermath of the 2020 election when he coordinated a Jan. 2, 2021 phone call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to tilt the election in the outgoing president’s favor.
Willis was given a Wednesday deadline to respond to Meadow’s motion to stay his case and for an expedited review of his case by the 11th circuit.
McAfee acknowledged last week that the timing of rulings from the appeals court could become a problem in October.
“We potentially could be sitting at a point where the state has presented its entire case and maybe the jury has returned with a verdict but we can’t enter that judgment until the 11th circuit comes to a decision,” McAfee said then.
Willis’ brief, however, counters that if the federal court later decides to remove the case, it will decide which defendants will no longer be tried in state court.
“Because a federal court’s decisions on removal occur without regard to this court’s decision to sever, the state respectfully submits that removal can have no practical bearing on this court’s consideration of severance,” the court filing said.
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