Georgia v. Trump has been problematic from the start, from jury selection to a large courtroom
ATLANTA (AP) – Prosecuting 19 people simultaneously is a tall order for any prosecutor – whether or not one of those defendants is a former president of the United States. He runs to get his old office back.
the A sprawling indictment of racketeering This week’s Return of a Grand Jury in Atlanta presents a wide range of challenges. The biggest one is political: finding jurors who don’t have firm opinions about Donald Trump and others in his orbit.
Moreover, with so many defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys will keep conflicting names and stories straight for these jurors over weeks or months. There will be countless legal details and essential logistics to discuss or work out — even down to finding a courtroom big enough to fit everyone.
In an early example of the long-running lawsuit ahead, attorneys for Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, filed a fast-track motion on Tuesday to transfer the case from state to federal court. All of his actions, they said, were in service of his role in the White House, foreshadowing the argument that the Constitution makes him immune from prosecution.
Trump himself tried a similar measure in New York – to take a case to federal court accusing him of falsifying business records. This offer was rejected.
Fulton County Attorney Fanny Willis She has filed 10 more state racketeering cases since taking office in January 2021. As an Assistant DA, she has used racketeering law to Successfully sued Atlanta public school teachers in the trial cheating scandal. But in one of Willis’ current cases, it involves Rapper Young ThugJury selection began in January and is still ongoing more than seven months later.
This is bigger, unprecedented. Her office now faces the daunting challenge of pursuing 13 felony charges against a battling former president Three other criminal cases and leading the Republican field in the fight for the 2024 presidential nomination.
“Just because they have experience with it doesn’t mean it’s easy,” said Robert James, a former district attorney in neighboring DeKalb County who is now a defense attorney. “It’s going to be slow, and it’s going to be methodical and exhausting.”
After investigating for more than two years, Willis used Georgia’s racketeering law to indict Trump and 18 of his allies, alleging a widespread conspiracy to keep him in power after he took office. Losing the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. Attorneys, Aides, and GOP Activists accused with the former president.
Several of the defendants on Tuesday accused Willis of playing politics with the indictment.
“Democrats and the Fulton County DA make it a crime to practice law,” Attorney Jenna Ellis, one of the defendants, wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “I am determined to trust in the Lord and will simply continue to honor, praise and serve Him. I deeply appreciate all of my friends who have reached out to offer encouragement and support.”
Trump said he would release a report next Monday that would establish “irrefutable” election fraud in Georgia, though years of investigations and lawsuits have produced no such evidence. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, responded: “The 2020 election was not stolen in Georgia. For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward — under oath — and prove anything in a court of law.”
In his indictment, Willis used the Georgia Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Racketeer to weave a complex narrative implicating multiple people accused of separate crimes in pursuit of a common goal. Some of the alleged acts are not necessarily crimes in themselves but are portrayed as helping further an overall illegal scheme.
The grand jury issued arrest warrants and Willis gave the defendants until August 25 at noon to surrender. Each of the 19 defendants will also have a trial date scheduled in the coming weeks.
Willis RICO case featuring rapper Young Thug is that the defendant gives insight into the challenges that could arise.
Some of the delays were specific to that trial—transferring defendants held in different prisons to court each day, bringing contraband to court, and arresting defense attorneys and a courtroom deputy. But jury selection, which began in January, is still ongoing. This is in part because the trial is expected to last six to nine months, which means that plenty of potential jurors have legitimate excuses for saying no.
Prosecuting large racketeering cases like Trump’s tends to be more challenging for the defense than the prosecution, as defense attorneys must take care to separate their clients from other defendants who may be seen as more guilty.
“The government is presenting a big picture,” said Barry Zohn, a New York criminal defense attorney who has been involved in several cases with a large number of defendants. “So even if one person is less guilty than another, they’ll be able to tell the story because they’re telling the story to multiple people.”
It’s easier for jurors, he said, to see the defendants at a table as a group rather than as individuals, so “the optics when you’re trying multiple defendants is that they all work together.”
Although Fulton County prosecutors have painted the 19 defendants as jointly involved in a criminal conspiracy, there is no doubt that the defendants do not see themselves as a unified team. In the years since Trump and his allies sought to overturn the election results, some of Trump’s associates have sought to disavow their past relationships.
When Georgia defendant Rudy Giuliani met with Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith’s team, he detailed about fellow defendant Sidney Powell, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. .
Some of the defendants may try to be tried separately from the former president.
“They don’t want spillage of evidence from other people, which could distort them, and they don’t want to be in the same courtroom as Trump because he would be a polarizing figure with the jury,” said the Boston-based attorney. Brian Kelly, who has heard a number of RICO cases as a federal prosecutor.
And while a RICO conspiracy case may have merits to prosecute, it can also be impractical.
There will undoubtedly be “a lot of pre-trial skirmishes,” Kelly said. “There will be complex legal challenges to the indictment itself and that takes time.”
It’s also likely that things will move slowly once a case goes to trial, with each defendant’s attorney given the opportunity to cross-examine each witness. Those additional examples of alleged wrongdoing that prosecutors are allowed to include to prove a vast scheme could also be a double-edged sword, said James, the former Georgia attorney general.
“It’s great because you can tell the whole story,” he said, “but you have to prove the whole story.”
Regardless of the legal complexities, the physical complications of trying so many people at once are horrendous, said Danny Porter, a former district attorney in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta. They may try to limit courtroom attendance to the defendants, lawyers for both sides, and security officers. But Porter said this could conflict with constitutional issues.
“Georgia is a very strong country in terms of the public’s right of access to the courtroom,” he said.
One option might be to find a “non-traditional” space, such as an auditorium or conference center, Porter said, noting that the North Georgia region used a nearby civic center at the height of the coronavirus pandemic to accommodate social distancing requirements.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Alana Durkin-Richer in Boston contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on apnews.com