Fulton DA proposes March 4 trial date for Trump, 18 co-defendants

Willis also requests arraignments for Sept. 5 week

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is proposing that former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants stand trial on March 4, according to a court filing on Wednesday.

If approved, the trial would begin eight days before Georgia’s presidential primary, set for March 12, and one day before the Super Tuesday primaries. Attached to the motion was a proposed scheduling order for the judge presiding over the case — Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee — to sign. It’s highly unlikely McAfee will sign the order until he hears from lawyers for all the defendants.

Willis also asked to arraign the defendants the week of Sept. 5.

During a Monday press conference, Willis said she hoped the case could go to trial within six months. But she conceded that it will ultimately be up to the judge to determine the court schedule.

“In light of defendant Donald Trump’s other criminal and civil matters pending in the courts of our sister sovereigns, the state of Georgia proposes certain deadlines that do not conflict with these other courts’ already scheduled hearings and trial dates,” Willis’s motion said.

In Washington, special counsel Jack Smith has asked that Trump, who is running to regain the presidency, stand trial on Jan. 2 for his alleged criminal attempt to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Trump is also scheduled to stand trial in Manhattan on March 25 in the case involving hush money for porn star Stormy Daniels. And his South Florida trial in the classified documents case is set for May 20.

Willis’s filing said that the proposed dates give the defendants’ time to review discovery turned over by the state, to prepare for trial “but also to protect the state of Georgia and the public’s interest in a prompt resolution of the charges for which the defendants have been indicted.”

Trying to set a March 4 trial date — less than seven months after the return of the 98-page, 41-count indictment — is wishful thinking, said Ashleigh Merchant, a criminal defense attorney who is following the case.

“Fani Willis has lost her mind if she wants a March 4 trial,” Merchant said. “There’s going to be a very lengthy discovery process, so for her to propose a trial date before the defense lawyers have been given a single page of discovery? That seems premature.”

Merchant noted that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has already filed a motion to remove the case to federal court and other defendants, such as Trump, are expected to follow suit.

“Those rulings could be appealed,” she noted. “There are a lot of things that need to happen before a trial date has to be set.”

No court hearings in the case have been scheduled. At her press conference, Willis gave all 19 defendants until noon next Friday to voluntarily surrender.

Former DeKalb County DA Robert James said Willis’ proposed timeline for arraignments is more doable. He said advancing to a trial in late winter “doesn’t feel realistic to me.”

“I’m not talking about (Willis’) preparedness, because the DA’s office, if they live by the same mantra we lived by when I was the DA in DeKalb, it was ‘when you indict be ready to fight,’ especially on a large case like this,” said James, now a criminal defense attorney. “So I assume she’s locked and loaded and ready for the trial tomorrow if she needs to be.”

He said McAfee will need to strike a balance as he finalizes the schedule.

“As a judge, you want to be fair, you want to treat these criminal defendants like every other criminal defendant,” James said, “but you have to also acknowledge the logistical nightmare that you’re wading into.”