In interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McAfee’s friends and former colleagues described him as a bright and driven legal “star” with a mild-mannered demeanor, impeccable ethics and plenty of conservative credentials.
“He is probably the best person I can think of to handle this case fairly and efficiently,” said Alex Stewart, a longtime friend who competes on McAfee’s Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association team. “I have high hopes and feel good about his ability to be objective in this case as well and not fold to pressure from either side.”
The son of retired Delta Air Lines employees, McAfee grew up in Kennesaw, is an Eagle Scout and graduated from North Cobb High School. He received a scholarship to perform as a cellist with the symphony orchestra at Emory University, where he obtained an undergraduate degree in political science and music in 2010.
Three years later, McAfee graduated with his law degree from the University of Georgia. As a student at UGA, he led the college chapter of The Federalist Society, which describes itself as “a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order.” On the national level, The Federalist Society has played a key role in getting conservative jurists appointed to the bench, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
McAfee has also participated in the Conservative Policy Leadership Institute, a training program that emphasizes conservative principles.
While studying for his law degree, McAfee interned for Georgia Supreme Court Justices David Nahmias and Keith Blackwell. He helped them prepare for oral arguments and drafted court opinions focusing on homicide case appeals.
“He’s very bright, but not in an ivory tower sense — he’s practical in the sense of being an engineer, not a physicist,” Blackwell, now a private attorney, said of McAfee. “What really stands out is his temperament — he’s not excitable, he’s even-keeled.”
Such traits should help him as he presides over a case of such magnitude, Blackwell said, one that “is going to involve a lot of really complicated legal issues, including some constitutional law issues and some election law issues.”
“He’s got the intellectual horsepower for it and while he’ll expect the lawyers and people around him to work hard, he’ll be working as hard or harder than they are,” Blackwell said.
After graduating from UGA, McAfee prosecuted cases in Barrow County as an assistant district attorney. He briefly switched to private practice, focusing on personal injury cases.
In 2015, he returned to prosecuting, this time in Fulton, where he handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases, ranging from DUI to armed robbery. For part of his tenure in Fulton, he worked under Willis. She unseated longtime District Attorney Paul Howard in the 2020 election and is now leading the prosecution against Trump and his allies.
While working for the Fulton DA’s office, McAfee was named the 2016 trial court lawyer of the year and was promoted to the major case division, where he was assigned homicide-related cases. McAfee handled the prosecution of Ardentric Johnson, who was found guilty in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison for the grisly murder of two women.
“Judge McAfee was always known as somebody around the office as, if you would, a star, not because of anything else but because of his legal mind and his trial practice prowess,” said Han Chung, Gwinnett County’s managing assistant district attorney who worked alongside McAfee when they were both prosecutors in Fulton.
Defense attorney Evan Watson recalled a “knock-down, drag-out” case in Fulton in which he defended a man charged with vehicular homicide. McAfee prosecuted the case.
“He was a super ethical prosecutor,” Watson said. “He was by the book, above board, a super smart guy. I have no concerns about how he will handle this big case.”
Between 2018 and 2021, McAfee worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta, where he participated in major drug investigations. He helped prosecute two Georgia prison inmates who directed massive methamphetamine deals from behind bars. Carmelo Reyes-Lozano and Bautista Toledo-Ramirez were given lengthy federal prison sentences this year for their roles in the conspiracy.
In April of 2021, Kemp appointed McAfee to lead Georgia’s Office of Inspector General. Kemp, who has repeatedly clashed with Trump, called McAfee a strong addition to his administration.
“His experience as a tough prosecutor equips him to search out fraud, waste, abuse and corruption, and bring those to justice who break the law,” Kemp said in a statement at the time.
McAfee’s office helped investigate nonprofit CEO Dawn Eggleston, who pleaded guilty this year to falsely claiming she provided more than $800,000 in meals for low-income children. In December, Kemp announced he was appointing McAfee to fill a Fulton Superior Court vacancy. The governor swore McAfee in two months later.
McAfee’s even temperament was on display in early June when he presided over a hearing on whether to find retired Atlanta lawyer Lin Wood in contempt for violating a court order in a suit filed against him by former law partners. Wood, an election denier who rose to national prominence as a libel lawyer, represented himself.
McAfee patiently allowed Wood to have his say. During his rambling defense, Wood leveled unfounded accusations, saying his former partners were affiliated with a CIA operative and had conspired with one of Wood’s children to have him undergo a mental health evaluation by the daytime TV talk show host “Dr. Phil.” In the end, McAfee found Wood in contempt and ordered him to pay $5,000 in fines.
McAfee, who is running in the 2024 election to retain his seat, says on his campaign website he wants to continue clearing a backlog of court cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while “giving everyone their fair day in court and keeping our community safe.