Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday and sought to sever his case from other defendants who are accused along with him of illegally trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee had set arraignment hearings for Trump and the 18 others charged in the case for Sept. 6. A court filing waiving arraignment means Trump won’t have to show up.
The decision to skip an in-person appearance averts the dramatic arraignments that have accompanied the three other criminal cases Trump faces, in which the Republican former president has been forced amid tight security into a courtroom and entered “not guilty” pleas before crowds of spectators. Georgia courts have fairly permissive rules on news cameras in the courtroom, and this step means Trump won’t have to enter a plea on television.
An attorney for Trump also asked McAfee on Thursday to separate his case from those of defendants who have asked for an expedited trial that is scheduled to start on Oct. 23. Giving the former president less than two months to prepare a defense against a 98-page indictment would “violate President Trump’s federal and state constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law,” attorney Steve Sadow said in a court filing.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said she wants all of the defendants tried together, and she has asked the judge to set an Oct. 23 trial date for everyone.
The motion adds to the pre-trial legal jousting that has dominated the two weeks since the indictment was brought, underscoring the complexities inherent in attempting to bring 19 defendants to trial at once and foreshadowing the delays ahead as judges sift through competing arguments from the defendants.
Trump and 18 others were charged earlier this month in a 41-count indictment that outlines an alleged scheme to subvert the will of Georgia voters who had chosen Democrat Joe Biden over the Republican incumbent in the presidential election.
Several other people charged in the indictment had already waived arraignment in filings with the court, saving them a trip to the courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Trump previously traveled to Georgia on Aug. 24 to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail, where he became the first former president to have a mug shot taken.
The case, filed under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is sprawling, and the logistics of bringing it to trial are likely to be complicated. Legal maneuvering in the case has already begun.
At least two defendants have filed demands for a speedy trial and have asked to be tried separately from others in the case. The judge has set an Oct. 23 trial date for one of them, Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who worked on the coordination and execution of a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate falsely stating that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
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