Federal judge sends four Trump defendants back to Fulton County court

DOJ lawyer and three Trump electors denied move to federal court

The Georgia prosecution of former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants is staying in Fulton County court. At least for now.

U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones rejected bids by four defendants in the election subversion case who had wanted to move the proceedings to federal court. In written orders handed down Friday, Jones denied the requests of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, ex-Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer, state Sen. Shawn Still, and onetime Coffee County Republican Party chairwoman Cathy Latham, remanding them back to Fulton County Superior Court.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s ruling. We will study the order and consider our options,” Still’s attorney, Tom Bever, said.

Latham’s attorney, William Cromwell, said his client plans to appeal. Shafer’s attorney declined to comment. Clark’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones had already rejected a similar removal bid by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows earlier this month. Lawyers for Trump, in a surprise move, said Thursday that they would not try to have the former president’s case transferred from Fulton County.

Meadows is appealing Jones’ decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the appeals court reverses Jones in that, or any of the other cases, the defendants could still move to federal court. Removal would grant the defendants a slightly more conservative jury pool that encompasses a wide swath of metro Atlanta, not just Fulton County.

The four defendants denied on Friday were indicted last month with Trump and 14 others on felony charges involving attempts to overturn or interfere with the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia and elsewhere. Earlier this month, they joined Meadows in arguing they were acting in their capacity as federal officials.

During a three-hour hearing before Jones last week, Clark’s attorney argued that his client’s alleged criminal behavior in the indictment fell within the scope of his official duties as an assistant U.S. attorney general.

In the waning weeks of the Trump administration, Clark prepared a document that said the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia,” according to the indictment. Clark’s letter urged Georgia officials to consider appointing a new slate of presidential electors. The problem was, DOJ had never found evidence of widespread fraud in the state.

“After considering the arguments made and evidence submitted, the Court determines that Clark has not met his burden,” Jones wrote in a 31-page ruling. “Accordingly, the Court declines to assume jurisdiction over the State’s criminal prosecution of Clark... and remands the case to Fulton Superior Court.”

Shafer, Still and Latham argued they were acting as “contingent” electors under instructions from Trump and other federal officials when they met to cast ballots and sign paperwork proclaiming that Trump had won the state — even though multiple vote counts had showed that Democrat Joe Biden was the winner.

All of the removal requests were opposed by the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, which has sought to keep the trials before Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee. In a filing earlier this month, District Attorney Fani Willis said Shafter, Still and Latham sought to “impersonate” electors and were not federal officials.

In the cases of Trump electors, Jones wrote that the questions before him were whether they were federal official when acting as “a Republican-nominated presidential elector” or while performing any of the actions alleged in the indictment. “The answer to both questions is no,” he wrote.

Jones did not echo Willis’ characterization of the Trump electors as imposters, instead merely ruling that a presidential elector is not a federal position.

“Even though electors are engaging in a federal functions when they meet and cast their ballots, that is insufficient to make someone a federal officer,” Jones wrote. “To find otherwise would convert all citizens who can lawfully vote into federal officers when they cast their ballot for U.S. House of Representatives.”