By Kate Brumback | Associated Press
ATLANTA — The judge overseeing the Georgia election subversion case involving former President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied requests by two of the 19 defendants to be tried alone, instead saying the pair would be tried together starting next month.
Since lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell have both filed speedy trial demands, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said their trial would begin Oct. 23, but he seemed skeptical of prosecutors’ arguments that all 19 defendants could be tried together that soon.
The hearing provided some insight into how the case could play out, with prosecutors estimating a trial would take four months and that they’d call more than 150 witnesses. It was also broadcast live on television and on the judge’s YouTube channel, a marked difference from the other three criminal cases against Trump, where cameras have not been allowed in the courtroom during proceedings.
Special prosecutor Nathan Wade, who provided the four-month estimate, said that did not include jury selection and added that whether or not defendants choose to testify could affect timing. But he said he expects a trial to take that long regardless of how many defendants it includes, arguing that because the trial was brought under Georgia’s anti-racketeering law prosecutors would seek to prove the entire conspiracy against each defendant.
In announcing the wide-ranging 41-count indictment last month, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said she wants to try all 19 defendants together. But the legal maneuvering that has already begun in the three weeks since the indictment was returned underscores the logistical complexity inherent in such a sprawling indictment with so many defendants.
Already some of those charged are seeking to speed up the process by attempting to separate themselves from the others accused in the alleged conspiracy while others are trying to move the charges against them from a state court to federal court. All of them have pleaded not guilty.
The judge said he would try Chesebro and Powell together and adhere to an Oct. 23 trial date already set for Chesebro to comply with their demands for a speedy trial. He gave prosecutors until Tuesday to submit a brief on whether it should be a trial of two defendants or 19.
Lawyers for Chesebro and Powell argued separately that their clients don’t know each other and are not accused in the indictment of having participated in the same acts. They said it would be like conducting two distinct trials at the same time and that the unrelated evidence against one of them could taint the other.
Several other defendants have also asked to be tried separately or in small groups, and Trump, the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, has asked to be tried apart from anyone who files a speedy trial demand.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was in federal court last week arguing that he was acting in his capacity as a federal official and his case should be heard by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones has yet to rule on that request. Four other defendants who are also seeking to move their cases to federal court have hearings set before Jones later this month.
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Whenever and wherever any trial in the case ultimately takes place, jury selection is likely to be a significant challenge. Jury selection in a racketeering and gang case brought last year by Willis began in January and is still ongoing. In another big racketeering case, Willis tried nearly a decade ago against former Atlanta public schools educators, it took six weeks to seat a jury.
Willis’ team on Tuesday asked McAfee to allow the use of a jury questionnaire that prospective jurors would have filled out before they show up for jury selection, writing in a court filing that it “will facilitate and streamline the jury selection process in many respects.” Prospective jurors may be more comfortable answering personal questions on paper than in open court and lawyers for both sides could agree that certain jurors aren’t qualified without additional questioning, prosecutors said.