Bad Day for Fanni Willis: No October Mass Trial in Georgia 

Gorodenkoff /
Gorodenkoff /

The Georgia election interference case, presided over by Judge Scott McAfee, took a new turn when the judge decided to separate the trial involving 17 defendants, including Donald Trump, from the speedy trial of Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, which is set for October 23. 

Sidney Powell faces allegations of conspiring with co-defendants to commit election fraud by allegedly encouraging and assisting individuals in tampering with ballot markers and voting machines within an elections office in Coffee County. Kenneth Chesebro is specifically accused, in the DA’s indictment, of formulating a strategy to use “alternate electors” to prevent Joe Biden from securing 270 electoral votes.  

McAfee clarified that dividing the trials was a necessary procedural and logistical step and did not rule out the possibility of further divisions in the future. He did, however, emphasize that any defendant who doesn’t waive their right to a speedy trial before October 23 will be included in the ongoing trial.  

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had initially sought to have all 19 defendants face trial together, arguing that multiple trials would put an “enormous strain” on the court. Collectively, the 19 defendants are facing a total of 41 charges. 

It’s a huge blow to Willis, who wanted to have all 19 defendants tried together. She has maintained this stance since announcing extensive racketeering charges in the case, which implicates Trump and numerous associates in alleged interference with Georgia’s 2020 election results.  

When Chesebro and Powell invoked their rights to a speedy trial, Willis attempted to move the entire trial forward as well. The new timeline would severely limit the amount of time Trump and the other defendants would have to prepare for the trial. 

Theoretically, her approach is logical and legal. The charges brought against the defendants fall under the state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. This legal framework allows District Attorney Willis to link together various plots that her office contends share a common objective, even if individual defendants aren’t inherently connected. Trump, as part of his broader strategy to delay the legal proceedings, has vigorously contested this approach. 

Willis is strongly opposed to the judge’s decision, arguing that if McAfee approves the requests for severance, there could be a domino effect where more defendants may opt for a speedy trial. 

In practical terms, Wilis says, conducting three or more simultaneous high-profile trials would give rise to numerous security concerns and place considerable strain on witnesses and victims. They would be compelled to testify multiple times regarding the same set of facts within the same case, which could create significant challenges and burdens. 

But Judge McAfee’s decision to sever the remaining cases was based on concerns related to due process and the extensive volume of evidence involved. He stated in his order that ensuring due process rights and adequate pretrial preparation would be challenging with a 19-person trial. Additionally, logistical challenges played a significant role, with the courthouse lacking a courtroom large enough to accommodate all 19 defendants. 

“The precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant’s due process rights and preparation ensure adequate pretrial preparation on the current accelerated track weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance,” MacAfee’s order stated. 

In his order issued on Thursday, Judge McAfee made it clear that if any other defendant requests a speedy trial before October 23, they will be included alongside Chesebro and Powell in the courtroom. 

As for Donald Trump and the other 16 co-defendants, Judge McAfee has established a schedule requiring all motions to be submitted by December 1. While a trial date has not been finalized for this group, Judge McAfee mentioned that his court has received assurances that other judges within the Fulton County jurisdiction are prepared to commence a separate trial during the November/December term. 

Trump and the other 18 defendants have pleaded not guilty to a comprehensive racketeering indictment, accusing them of attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. 

Willis thinks she has something to prove, but she’s up against a newly appointed superior court judge who has something to prove, too. All eyes will be on McAfee, who is running for reelection, as he approaches his first high-profile case.