September 15, 2023
On Thursday, September 14, a state judge rejected prosecutors’ request to try all 19 defendants together in the Georgia 2020 election interference case next month, reports The Hill.
“The Court joins the skepticism expressed by several federal courts that denying severance always ensures efficiency, especially in ‘mega trials’ such as this,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote in an order.
McAfee’s ruling means former President Donald Trump will not be tried in October alongside at least two of his co-defendants who invoked their right to a speedy trial.
It marks a major blow to District Attorney Fani Willis, who repeatedly urged McAfee to keep the defendants together and try them at the same time.
Although McAfee did not set a trial date for Trump, The Hill said, his ruling sets a motions deadline of December 1, which would come before any eventual trial. Trump and his 18 co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty to the combined 41 charges they face. Trump has looked to delay all four criminal cases he faces and previously argued he would not be ready for trial by October.
“Additional divisions of the defendants may well be required. That is a decision for another day once the many anticipated pretrial motions have been resolved and a realistic trial date approaches,” he wrote.
McAfee also determined that defendants Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell—the two lawyers who last month invoked their right to a speedy trial, expediting their cases—will be tried together, having “not satisfied their burden” to show severance is necessary.
The judge had said he would do so at a hearing last week.
Chesebro had argued in court filings that he never met Powell—rendering it “impossible” to try their cases together.
“The Defendants’ judicial economy concerns simply do not outweigh the resources expended through an additional trial, the shuttering of a second judge’s docket, and the resultant delay to a multitude of other criminal and civil cases, many of which involve inmates in lengthy pretrial confinement,” McAfee wrote.
Chesebro and Powell’s joint trial is set for October 23—the first trial on charges alleging a criminal enterprise was formed to keep Trump in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election.
In his decision, McAfee cited the logistical concerns raised by a 19-defendant trial—suggesting the Fulton County Courthouse contains “no courtroom adequately large enough” to hold the defendants, their legal teams, prosecutors, court personnel, and others.
“Relocating to another larger venue raises security concerns that cannot be rapidly addressed,” McAfee wrote in the filing.
Willis had insisted that the county’s courthouse could accommodate a singular trial with all 19 defendants.
McAfee also questioned whether trying all the defendants together would have an outsized effect on the local justice system, “sidelining” local defense counsel from handling other cases and bogging down the court’s docket.
“We must consider the ripple effects of a months-long, multi-defendant trial on the local criminal justice system,” he said.
Research contact: @thehill