A judge in the US state of Georgia has ruled that former President Donald Trump and 16 others will be tried separately from two co-defendants who are set to go to trial next month to face accusations they participated in a scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro had asked for a speedy trial and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee set their trial start date for October 23.
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But Trump and the other defendants said they should be tried separately, with some arguing that they could not be ready by next month.
On Thursday, McAfee cited the tight timetable, among other issues, as a factor in his decision to separate Trump and 16 others from Powell and Chesebro.
“The precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant’s due process rights and ensure adequate pre-trial preparation on the current accelerated track weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favour of severance,” the judge wrote.
He added that it may be necessary to further divide them into smaller groups for trial.
Trump and 18 co-defendants – including lawyers, allies and advisers – were indicted last month in Georgia on accusations they joined a conspiracy to “unlawfully change the outcome” of the 2020 United States election in the state.
It was the second indictment against the former president related to interference in the election that he lost to President Joe Biden, and the fourth time Trump has been criminally charged so far this year.
He was indicted on federal election interference charges in early August, as well as on federal charges of mishandling classified documents in June. He also faces a state-level prosecution in New York linked to a hush-money payment made to a porn star.
Trump, who also holds a sizeable lead in the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination race, has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing in all the cases, accusing officials of seeking to derail his re-election bid.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading the Georgia case, had been pushing to try all 19 defendants together, arguing that it would be more efficient and more fair.
But McAfee, the judge, said on Thursday that he was sceptical of that argument.
He noted that the Fulton County courthouse does not have a courtroom big enough to hold 19 defendants, their lawyers and others who would need to be present, and relocating to a bigger venue could raise security concerns.
His decision to separate the cases is likely to be welcome news to other defendants looking to avoid being tied by prosecutors to Powell.
Perhaps more than anyone else in the Trump camp, she was vocal about publicly pushing baseless conspiracy theories linking foreign governments to election interference.
Chesebro and Powell also had sought to be tried separately from each other, but the judge denied that request.
Trump personally faces 13 charges in the Georgia case, including soliciting a public officer to violate his oath, conspiracy to commit forgery, and making false statements and filings.
All of the defendants, including the ex-president, also face a racketeering charge under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.
The charge, which is usually reserved for organised crime and corruption, allows prosecutors to target multiple people who commit separate crimes while working towards a common goal.