All 19 defendants who were indicted in Fulton County last month on election interference-related charges have pleaded not guilty and waived their arraignments that had been scheduled before a superior court judge on Wednesday.
That means there won’t be any circus-like courtroom appearances — at least not in the near future — for former President Donald Trump, ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others who are accused of conspiring to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election results. The defendants were indicted on racketeering and a combined 40 felony counts on Aug. 14
Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the case, had scheduled all of the arraignments in 15-minute increments throughout the day on Wednesday. But one by one, the defendants waived their right to the appearance, which is permissible under Georgia law and was expected given that most live out of state.
Arraignments are when defendants appear before a judge for the first time to formally hear the charges against them and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The process is designed, in part, to ensure the defendant knows his or her rights. Judges often set additional court dates at arraignments, such as deadlines for pretrial motions and a trial date.
With no defendants set to appear in person, McAfee scheduled a hearing for Wednesday afternoon on motions filed by two defendants, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, to separate out — or sever — their portions of the case from the other defendants.
The judge asked the Fulton District Attorney’s office to provide a “good-faith estimate” of how long it will take for the state to present its case if all 19 co-defendants are tried together or separately, including the number of witnesses likely to be called and the number and size of exhibits likely to be introduced.
The order suggested that McAfee hasn’t ruled out the request from DA Fani Willis to try all 19 defendants together. He had previously set an Oct. 23 trial date for Chesebro, who demanded a speedy trial. Powell has also issued a similar demand.
On Tuesday, Chesebro’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the seven charges filed against their client, citing the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
Also on Tuesday, attorneys for co-defendant John Eastman filed a motion to sever his case from Chesebro and Powell, citing scheduling conflicts and the large amount of documents the DA’s office is expected to hand over as part of discovery.
“Proceeding to trial in a major RICO case six weeks after indictment obviously does not give sufficient time to prepare for trial,” Eastman’s attorneys argued. “Such a conclusion should be apparent on the fact of it without the need for sophisticated legal analysis.”
Trump similarly asked that his portion of the case to be severed last week. His attorney argued that having two months to mount a legal defense “would violate President Trump’s federal and state constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law.”
In the days ahead, the Fulton DA’s office is slated to hand over its first batch of discovery documents to defendants’ attorneys. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the first part of the elections investigation, is separately expected to release the final report of the special grand jury that helped Willis compile evidence last year.
And all eyes are on U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones, who last week heard arguments from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, another co-defendant who is hoping to move the case from Fulton to federal court.
If Jones rules in Meadows’ favor, it’s possible that the case for all 19 defendants moves to federal court, which could considerably alter case logistics. Atlanta federal court, unlike Fulton Court, generally doesn’t allow cameras.