(Bloomberg) -- A proposal to put Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants on trial as soon as Oct. 23 for allegedly trying to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia was deemed “unrealistic” by a judge, signaling a potential setback for the state’s plan to expedite the case.
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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s request to start the trial in less than two months could easily by gummed up by the diverging interests of defense lawyers and the prospect of drawn-out pre-trial appeals, Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said at a hearing Wednesday in Atlanta.
“It just seems a bit unrealistic to think that we can handle all 19 in 40-something days,” the judge said, adding that he’d rule later on on the matter.
McAfee weighed in after one of Willis’s lead prosecutors told him that it may take four months to present the case to a jury, and that as many as 150 potential witnesses had been identified. The judge is also weighing requests from several defendants, including former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, to split their cases off from the main prosecution.
Trump, the Republican front-runner for the 2024 presidential election, is accused of leading a “criminal enterprise” to stay in office after he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. It’s one of four criminal cases Trump is facing, all of which he claims are part of a “witch hunt” to undermine his campaign.
Read More: What Trump’s Many Legal Perils Mean for His 2024 Bid: QuickTake
The four-month trial estimate for the Georgia case didn’t include jury selection or time for any defendants to testify, the prosecutor said. McAfee said he suspects the trial could take months longer than estimated.
The judge also expressed uncertainty about the impact of an ongoing attempt by Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, one of his alleged co-conspirators, to transfer his case to federal court. A federal judge in Atlanta could rule at any time on Meadows’s request, which could result in appeals that would take months to resolve. Meadows on Wednesday also became the latest defendant to ask McAfee to split his case off from the others.
Powell and another lawyer in Trump’s 2020 campaign orbit, Kenneth Chesebro, diverged from Trump and the other defendants when they asked the judge to expedite their trials under Georgia’s “speedy trial” law, resulting in an Oct. 23 start date being set by the court. Willis then argued that all of the defendants must be tried starting on that date.
Powell and Chesebro argue their cases should be split off from the main proceedings because the vast majority of the allegations do not apply to them. But prosecutors argued at the hearing that main charge — brought under Georgia’s racketeering law — explicitly allows the state to tie together defendants even if they didn’t didn’t know each other or participate in every aspect of an alleged scheme.
Trump has said he’ll ask to split his case from any expedited trials.
Another prosecutor, Will Wooten, argued that holding a myriad of parallel trials would also be unfair to lawmakers, state officials and poll workers who would be asked to testify, and waste the court’s time as it selects multiple juries.
“One four-month trial is shorter than multiple four-month trials,” Wooten told the judge. “Same evidence and same witnesses.”
--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado.
(Updates with judge saying Oct. 23 trial date seems “unrealistic”)
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