Fulton 19 recap: DA death threats, judge keeps Oct. 23 trial start on track, plea deals in works

Scales of Justice with the word justice over it.

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

October 7, 2023

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis says she continues to receive personal threats for prosecuting a felony racketeering case against Donald Trump and 18 other defendants accused of attempting to illegally overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Willis said late last week that receiving an estimated 150 threats over the last two months make her worried that her life is at risk. During a Fulton County Commission meeting, Willis detailed the stress her staff and other county employees are experiencing because of the visceral reaction among Trump’s supporters to the high-profile case.

On Aug. 14, a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 other defendants in a sweeping probe alleging that the former GOP president, several members of the former president’s inner circle, and other supporters were involved in a multi-state conspiracy to interfere with the 2020 election results.

The threats are made through a variety of channels, including the county’s customer service line, her office telephone, the magistrate court, as well as through text messages and other forms of communication, Willis said.

“The demands that I am putting on my staff right now to try to track down and investigate the threats, but also keep me alive, which has become a real concern for me,” Willis said. “I have got to have people that are loyal to me and that my life means something to.”

Willis also faces the ire of state Senate Republican lawmakers, who are calling for a newly created prosecutors oversight commission to investigate her conduct in handling the election interference case.

Willis’ comments about the ongoing threats lead this week’s news roundup of developments in the election interference case and things to know about what’s ahead.

This week, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, the first two co-defendants set to go to trial on Oct. 23, suffered legal setbacks.

Judge declines to toss out co-defendant cases

Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee late last week rejected a motion to dismiss the racketeering case against Powell, who accused the D.A.’s office of committing prosecutorial misconduct and withholding evidence that would prove she was not involved in the hack of a rural Georgia voting system in the weeks after the 2020 election.

Powell’s attorney argued that Willis ignored evidence and did not interview witnesses that would have shown Powell should not have been indicted on six counts related to the January 2021 breach. The Fulton indictment alleges that Powell helped coordinate hiring Atlanta forensic computer experts to assist with accessing confidential Coffee County voting data and equipment.

McAfee said on Thursday that Powell’s attorney failed to demonstrate a baseline level of prosecutors’ prejudice that warranted throwing Powell’s case out.

McAfee followed up on Friday by also denying Chesebro’s motion to have his case dismissed because of a special prosecutor’s delay in filing paperwork.

Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade will remain involved in the election interference case despite objections from Chesebro’s attorneys.

His lawyers argued that Chesebro’s indictment should be considered void since Wade did not file an oath of office with the clerk’s office until last week.

McAfee rejected dropping Chesebro’s complaint that was based on a technical error and said that the oath is not legally required since Wade is only prosecuting a single case for the D.A.’s office.

Wade’s Cobb County law firm was hired in January 2022 to serve as lead counsel in the prosecution of case, which could involve 150 state witnesses testifying over the course of a four-month trial.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that as of Sept. 6, Wade’s firm had been paid just shy of $550,000 for the case by the DA’s office.

A $41.6 million budget was set for the Fulton District Attorney’s office for 2023, an increase of $9 million from last year. Among the largest increases are a a one-time allocation of $3 million to cover operational expenses and an additional $550,000 to cover overtime and recruit and retain employees.

Plea deal discussions ongoing

Scott Hall, a bail bondsman in Atlanta, became the first of 19 co-defendants to accept a plea bargain last month, but if prosecutors have their way, Hall won’t be the last to take a deal that avoids going to trial.

Wade said at a recent court hearing that the D.A.’s office would also like to negotiate plea agreements with Powell and Chesebro ahead of their joint trial.

On Sept. 29, Hall pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit intentional election interference, which will allow him to serve his sentence on probation.

Hall agreed to testify as a state’s witness about his involvement in breaching voting equipment while visiting the Coffee County elections office several weeks after the 2020 election.

Chesebro and Powell threw a wrench into Fulton D.A.’s plans to have the 19 co-defendants tried at the same time after a judge agreed to sever their two cases once they requested a speedy trial.

Trump and the remaining 15 defendants have not been scheduled for trial. McAfee has said he’ll consider whether two trials are feasible or whether the cases should be split again.

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