By Jack Phillips
A Georgia judge handling the trials of former President Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants appeared to be skeptical of prosecutors’ proposals to bring all the co-defendants together for a trial starting next month.
“It just seems a bit unrealistic to think that we can handle all 19 in forty-something days,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee told the court in a Wednesday hearing in regards to motions to sever that were brought by co-defendants Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell. The judge denied the request to split the two cases.
During the hearing, prosecutors estimated the trial would take four months and that they’d call more than 150 witnesses. “That is our time estimate,” prosecutor Nathan Wade told Judge McAfee during the hearing, which was also broadcast live on television and on the judge’s YouTube channel.
But Mr. McAffee told prosecutors that he believes the trial would take twice that—or eight months. “It could easily be twice that,” he said, noting the number of defendants in the case.
“We’re on an expedited timeline with these statutory speedy trial demands,” Judge McAfee said, while adding that he plans to press forward and “make that October 23 trial date stick” for Mr. Chesebro and Mrs. Powell. It’s not clear when the other co-defendants will go to trial.
The judge also suggested that any trial he conducts could be rendered moot if a defendant successfully appeals to a higher court. Already, a federal judge held a hearing in former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who is charged in the case.
“It could potentially even be a six-month turnaround just for the 11th Circuit to come up with a decision,” Judge McAfee said of the appeals process. “Where does that leave us in the middle of a jury trial?” the judge asked.
Mr. Wade, who provided the four-month estimate, said that did not include jury selection and added that whether or not defendants choosing to testify could affect timing. But he said he expects a trial to take that long regardless of how many defendants it includes, arguing that because the trial was brought under Georgia’s anti-racketeering law prosecutors would seek to prove the entire conspiracy against each defendant.
Another prosecutor, Will Wooten, argued that under the state’s RICO—or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—statute, the defendants should be tried together. All 19 defendants were accused of participating in the alleged scheme under Georgia’s RICO law last month.
“Anytime a person enters into a conspiracy they are liable for all of the acts of all of their co-conspirators, and that’s it. Evidence against one is evidence against all, and that’s it,” Mr. Wooten said.
The hearing was also broadcast live on television and on the judge’s YouTube channel, a marked difference from the other three criminal cases against Trump, where cameras have not been allowed in the courtroom during proceedings.
Whenever and wherever any trial in the case ultimately takes place, jury selection is likely to be a significant challenge. Jury selection in a racketeering and gang case brought last year by Ms. Willis began in January and is still ongoing. In another large racketeering case, Ms. Willis tried nearly a decade ago against former Atlanta public schools educators, it took six weeks to seat a jury.
On Tuesday, Ms. Willis’ team asked the judge to allow the use of a jury questionnaire that prospective jurors would have filled out before they show up for jury selection, writing in a court filing that it “will facilitate and streamline the jury selection process in many respects.”
Prospective jurors may be more comfortable answering personal questions on paper than in open court and lawyers for both sides could agree that certain jurors aren’t qualified without additional questioning, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Meadows was in federal court last week arguing that he was acting in his capacity as a federal official and his case should be heard by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones has yet to rule on that request. Four other defendants who are also seeking to move their cases to federal court have hearings set before Jones later this month.
As for President Trump, the former president on Wednesday told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would “absolutely” testify in one of the four trials against him. He was charged in separate cases in Georgia, New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C., pleading not guilty to all the charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.