Civil rights attorney to challenge Scott McAfee, judge in Fulton Trump case

Judge Scott McAfee and Robert Patillo

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Judge Scott McAfee and Robert Patillo

Civil rights attorney and talk radio host Robert Patillo plans to run against Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who has been overseeing the high-profile election interference case against former President Donald Trump and others.

Patillo plans to qualify as a candidate for the position on Thursday, according to multiple people with knowledge who declined to speak on the record. He is the former executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the social justice and civil rights group founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’s also a criminal defense attorney, cable news pundit and a former candidate for statehouse who has previously billed himself as a conservative Democrat.

McAfee, a former Fulton and federal prosecutor, is running for a full, four-year term on the bench after being appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in late 2022. His platform includes clearing the backlog of cases created by the pandemic, providing a path forward for nonviolent offenders and holding violent offenders accountable.

Patillo, meanwhile, plans to focus on promoting restorative justice programs for juvenile offenders, clearing cases and reducing wait times for trial and diversifying Fulton’s judicial bench. He does not initially appear to be challenging McAfee due to his work on the Trump case.

Patillo declined to comment on Wednesday.

While it’s not unusual for sitting judges to attract challengers, they almost always get reelected.

Contests for superior court seats in Georgia are nonpartisan. Unlike partisan races, judicial contests are not on the ballot in November. Instead, the election will be held on May 21 — the same date of the primary for partisan races for Congress and statehouse — and a runoff, if needed, would be held on June 18.

In late 2019, Patillo nominated himself for the U.S. Senate seat that opened up after the late Republican Johnny Isakson retired, emphasizing issues he thought could bridge the gap between both parties, including expanding rural broadband, encouraging alternative energy and improving veterans’ care.

“Broadly, we want the streets to work, we want clean water and clean air, we want kids to have the best education possible and we want to care for our veterans and our elderly,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.

McAfee, who previously led Georgia’s Office of Inspector General, has won high marks by many legal observers for his even-keeled handling of the Trump case. But some supporters of Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis have faulted him for greenlighting an evidentiary hearing last month that aired highly personal information about Willis and Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor with whom she once had a romantic relationship.

Reached while presiding over a murder trial on Wednesday morning, McAfee seemed unfazed.

“Whoever qualifies, I look forward to making my case to the voters, proving my track record shows that I am the best candidate to provide Fulton County with efficient, unbiased, and nonpartisan application of the law,” he said.

Beyond McAfee, two other key players in the Fulton racketeering trial are set to be on this year’s ballot. Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee after Nikki Haley suspended her campaign on Wednesday.

Willis, a Democrat, could face a challenge, something she acknowledged when she qualified Wednesday to run for a second term.

“This is a democracy that we live in, so people have a right to run for office. But they should come prepared for a fight,” she told the AJC. “They should know that my heart is still in this work. My heart will continue to be in this work.”

At least one prominent lawyer in Georgia viewed Patillo’s challenge to McAfee skeptically. Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead Atlanta attorney, questioned the motivations behind Patillo’s run.

“In our democracy, anyone can choose to run for public office. But does anyone following the Willis-Wade Fulton County fiasco really believe it is a coincidence that this particular gentleman has (been) chosen to run against Judge McAfee?” Sadow said on X, the site previously known as Twitter. “I don’t. And, if choosing this particular judicial candidate is intended by the pro-Willis faction to put political pressure on the court to rule in her favor, I truly believe they completely underestimate the character of Judge McAfee.”