Monday, September 18, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Monday, September 18, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Georgia judge splits trial for 2 defendants from Trump, 16 others in racketeering case

Defendants Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will have their cases tried together beginning Oct. 23 as part of their demands for a speedy trial.

ATLANTA (CN) — A Georgia judge ruled Thursday that Donald Trump and 16 of his co-defendants, facing racketeering and other charges for alleged election interference, will be severed from two other defendants in the case who demanded speedy trials.

The separation means that the former president will not have to go to trial next month as state prosecutors were seeking, arguing that all 19 defendants should be tried together.

In a seven-page order, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote that "severing the remaining 17 co-defendants is simply a procedural and logistical inevitability."

“Severance is an absolute necessity," the judge added. "Additional divisions of these 17 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.”

McAfee ruled that Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will have their cases tried together beginning Oct. 23, denying their requests for individual trials. The two defendants had argued they had no involvement with one another and their charges involved distinct crimes, but the judge concluded that a single trial would "reduce any concern for 'spillover' evidence or juror confusion."

Siding with the state's argument, McAfee said that prosecutors are able to present the entirety of their case against each defendant "because as charged members of the same conspiracy, 'each of the acts and statements of each of the participants in the criminal enterprise is the same' as if Chesebro or Powell had done the act or made the statement themselves."

The judge added that nine of the defendants, including Trump, have indicated they were waiving their rights to a speedy trial in exchange for being severed from Powell and Chesebro. He said any other defendant who files a demand for a speedy trial before Oct. 23 will “immediately join” Powell and Chesebro, and that he received assurances that other Fulton County judges “stand ready to begin a second trial” in the November and December court term if needed.

A hearing discussing Chesebro and Powell's upcoming trial also took place on Thursday, where attorneys argued for the state to turn over transcripts of witness testimony from the special purpose grand jury that was seated two years ago to aid in the investigation.

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade argued that giving the transcripts to the defendants would violate the confidentiality of the grand jury proceedings. Judge McAfee said he would take the matter under consideration but the state will likely have to give copies of the transcripts to any of the witnesses they intend to call during trial.

The judge said that he plans to set a Dec. 1 deadline to file any motions. He issued a scheduling order with Oct. 6 as the due date for initial discovery.

He did not issue a trial date for Trump and the 16 other defendants, but he denied bids from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others seeking to pause proceedings while their efforts to move their cases to federal court are pending.

Last week, a federal judge rejected Meadows' request to move the charges against him from state to federal court. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said the evidence presented “overwhelmingly suggests that Meadows was not acting in his scope of executive branch duties during most of the overt acts alleged" in the indictment brought last month.

The Fulton District Attorney’s office had been fighting for all 19 defendants to be tried together. In a court filing earlier this week, District Attorney Fani Willis argued that trying defendants in multiple groups would create a “logistical quagmire” for courthouse staff, jurors and witnesses.

McAfee said logistics made a single trial difficult.

“The Fulton County Courthouse simply contains no courtroom adequately large enough to hold all 19 defendants, their multiple attorneys and support staff, the sheriff’s deputies, court personnel, and the state’s prosecutorial team," McAfee said. "Relocating to another larger venue raises security concerns that cannot be rapidly addressed."

Earlier this month, prosecutors said the trial would likely span four months and that they intend to call more than 150 witnesses. McAfee has expressed concerns over a long trial and the anticipated lengthy juror selection process, writing in his order that judges must consider the “ripple effects of a monthslong, multi-defendant trial on the local criminal justice system."

Follow @@Megwiththenews
Categories / National, Politics, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.