Five things for Fulton 19: First trials start October for 2020 election interference

Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 6, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

September 17, 2023

More than a month’s worth of lawyering has advanced the Fulton County 2020 election interference case since Aug. 14, the day when ex-President Donald Trump, members of his inner circle, and several Georgia residents were charged with racketeering conspiracy for allegedly trying to sabotage the 2020 election.

On Friday afternoon, state Sen. Shawn Still avoided being sanctioned by an appointed-Legislative panel. Still was one of the 16 alternate GOP electors in December 2020 who cast an illegitimate vote declaring Trump the winner over Joe Biden in Georgia’s presidential election contest.

The Norcross Republican is one of the 19 defendants accused by Fulton District Attorney’s Office of attempting to illegally overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results.

Two weeks after the grand jury indicted Still in the election collusion probe, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp followed state law, appointing a three-member commission to review the charges against the Norcross senator. Republicans Attorney General Chris Carr, Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, and House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration did not recommend that Still face disciplinary action.

Still avoiding suspension tops the Georgia Recorder’s first in a series of weekly articles that summarize recent developments and take a look at what’s ahead in the election interference racketeering case that could soon shake up national politics.

Freshman senator escapes punishment

Under Georgia law, a review panel must be appointed by the governor within 14 days of being formally informed that a state public official has been charged with a felony offense. Commissioners were required to notify Kemp if Still’s actions adversely affected his ability to represent Georgia residents.

Still’s attorneys argued he should not be suspended from office since the allegations against him stem from events that occurred before he was elected to the state Senate in 2022.

Still faces seven charges for allegedly violating Georgia’s RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), impersonating a public officer, forgery and making false statements and writings.

A hearing on the sweeping criminal case that includes him has been scheduled for Wednesday as his attorney seeks to have Still’s criminal case transferred from state to federal court.

Judge provides glimpse into potential daily trial schedule

Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee has some key decisions to make ahead of the the speedy trial set to begin on Oct. 23 for defendants Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro.

Powell and Chesebro are expected to be the first co-defendants to wade through a marathon trial that prosecutors anticipate will eventually involve 150 witnesses taking the stand over the course of four months.

Attorney Scott Grubman, who represents Chesebro, recommended a modified schedule that ends earlier in the afternoon on each day. He said that there appears to be evidence that shaving off a couple hours daily does not slow down the trial while also keeping jurors engaged during lengthy arguments.

McAfee, however, said that he’s favoring holding the trials during the regular business hours that the courts are open. He suggested holding the proceedings four days a week, with Friday being an off day.

McAfee ruled Thursday in favor of severing the trials for 17 of the defendants, including Trump, from that of Powell and Chesebro.

The judge also ruled on Thursday against Fulton prosecutors’ request to try all 19 defendants at the same time.

Defense asks for the release of names of alleged co-conspirators, grand jury transcripts

The 19 defendants could find out the names of about 30 alleged unindicted co-conspirators referenced in the 98-page indictment. Additionally, they may be able to access witness transcripts related to a special grand jury’s recommendation that prosecutors pursue charges against several dozen people connected to the election interference probe.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office opposes Chesebro and Powell’s attorneys’ request for transcripts of many of the 75 witnesses who testified last year as a Fulton County special purpose grand jury heard the evidence.

McAfee said last week that releasing transcripts of the testimony would assist defense attorneys in cross-examining witnesses.

Jury questionnaires garner support

Prior to attorneys making their opening arguments in the trials, the two sides will have to settle on a panel of jurors who will decide the innocence or guilt of the defendants being tried.

The jury selection process needs to be be figured out later this month. But prosecutors and the attorneys representing Powell and Chesebro both said they planned to submit questions for the jury questionnaire.

The questionnaires are used by attorneys for both sides as they consider who they want to disqualify as jurors.

McAfee agreed to a jury questionnaire that could speed up jury selection.

“I don’t know if there is anyone in Fulton County who hasn’t heard of this case and I don’t think there is anyone in the country that doesn’t have a strong opinion about the former president and the people connected to him,” Chesebro’s attorney Grubman said during a Thursday court hearing.

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