Trump replaces top Atlanta attorney on day of Fulton surrender

Atlanta defense attorney Steve Sadow speaks to reporters on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/ STRUBEY@AJC.COM

Atlanta defense attorney Steve Sadow speaks to reporters on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/ STRUBEY@AJC.COM

Hours before he was slated to surrender at the Fulton County jail on Thursday, former President Donald Trump shook up his Atlanta legal team.

In one fell swoop, Trump replaced attorney Drew Findling, who has vigorously defended the former president for months, with prominent Atlanta defense attorney Steve Sadow.

“I have been retained to represent President Trump in the Fulton County, Georgia case,” Sadow said in a statement. “The president should never have been indicted. He is innocent of all the charges brought against him.”

Sadow formally filed an entry of appearance early Thursday, alerting Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee he is now Trump’s new lawyer.

Findling, who with his law partner Marissa Goldberg has represented Trump in Georgia for the last year, declined to comment. He had tried, but failed, to prevent Trump from being indicted here and on Monday arranged Trump’s bail, which was set at $200,000.

Jennifer Little, another member of Trump’s Atlanta legal team, will remain on the case.

Trump was indicted by a Fulton grand jury last week on 13 felony counts, including racketeering, solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer and conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, in conjunction with his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. Eighteen others were charged alongside him, including his former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Sadow, 69, is one of Atlanta’s most widely-respected defense attorneys.

One of his more notable recent clients was the rapper Gunna, who was facing charges in the wide-ranging “Young Slime Life anti-racketeering case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, entered a special type of negotiated guilty plea with the state. Known as an Alford plea, the arrangement allowed him to suspend additional jail time and maintain his innocence in exchange for pleading guilty to one count of violating Georgia’s RICO act.

Sadow has been lead or co-counsel in some of Atlanta’s most high-profile cases in the past few decades. This included replacing prominent New York attorney Benjamin Brafman as lead counsel in the federal anti-racketeering case involving the Gold Club, the now-defunct strip club where sports stars received sexual favors.

Sadow’s client, club owner Steve Kaplan, put an end to the months-long trial by entering a guilty plea. In 2002, he was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

Steve Sadow speaks to reporters after a hearing in Cobb County.

Credit: Hyosub Shin,

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Credit: Hyosub Shin,

In another sensational trial, Sadow represented one of NFL star Ray Lewis’ co-defendants in a murder case that involved a twin-killing in Buckhead following a night of post-Super Bowl partying. Mid-trial, Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction. Sadow’s client, Joseph Sweeting, and another co-defendant, Reginald Oakley, were acquitted on June 12, 2000, in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.

During a news conference after the verdict, then-Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said he thought two guilty men had “without a doubt” been set free.

In response, Sadow said, “If two guilty men went free it’s because Paul Howard didn’t do his job. For him to say that is an insult to the 12 citizens who found the defendants not guilty. He ought to respect the jury’s verdict.”

In his statement issued Thursday, Sadow said, “We look forward to the case being dismissed or, if necessary, an unbiased, open minded jury finding the president not guilty. Prosecutions intended to advance or serve the ambitions and careers of political opponents of the president have no place in our justice system.”

In a 2021 interview with the AJC, Sadow contended that RICO was “overused” by Georgia prosecutors.

”I think it’s been overused for quite a long time,” he said. Describing the state’s RICO law, Sadow said “it’s a broadening of culpability. People get swept up and charged with criminal activity based on the conduct of others for which they are being held responsible, despite being on the fringes.”

Defense attorney Dwight Thomas, who has advised Trump’s legal team, said he regarded Findling as “an excellent lawyer” with vast experience defending difficult cases. But Thomas, who has tried cases with Sadow, said the sudden change of attorneys should have no adverse impact on Trump’s defense.

“Steve Sadow is a very aggressive trial lawyer, a very dedicated criminal defense attorney,” Thomas said. “Any lawyer who works with Steve will learn a lot about defending a client in an aggressive and zealous manner. He has an excellent knowledge of the law and excellent cross-examination skills.”

Attorney Scott Grubman, who represents co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro in the case, said Sadow is “an amazing lawyer with a proven track record of acquittals in high-profile cases.”

“I welcome him to the case and look forward to achieving a mutual goal on behalf of our respective clients,” Grubman said.

Attorneys Drew Findling, from left, and Marissa Goldberg are in the Findling Law Firm lobby in Buckhead on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Hours before Trump was to surrender at the Fulton County Jail, the former president replaced Findling and Goldberg with defense attorney Steve Sadow.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

When Findling signed onto the Trump Fulton case last summer, he was known nationally for representing high-profile rap stars, earning him the hashtag #BillionDollarLawyer. Trump’s political action committee paid Findling’s law firm $816,000 in 2022 and the first half of this year, The New York Times has reported.

A political critic of Trump’s, Findling provided an aggressive defense of the former president against Willis in her special purpose grand jury probe. In February, he accused Willis of running a “clown-like” investigation into interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections.

A month later, Findling’s legal team filed a sweeping motion that aimed to gut Willis’ inquiry. It argued the DA’s investigation was politically tainted and unconstitutional. But Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney flatly rejected it.