Election 2024: Quartet

Today there is active news in four different legal fronts involving Trump.

First: There is reporting that Judge Engoron’s decision in the Trump Org fraud trial is very likely to be issued tomorrow.

Second: As I had predicted, it only took Special Counsel Smith one day out of the seven allotted to him to submit a 40-page response to SCOTUS regarding Trump’s request for a stay of the D.C. Circuit’s denial of his interlocutory appeal. Trump’s reply brief was then submitted today; three briefs in three days, that’s the shadow docket for you. SCOTUS has a conference already scheduled for tomorrow, and some court-watchers are speculating that Smith was seeking to get his brief submitted early enough that the case could be added to the agenda for that conference.

Third: Today New York State Judge Juan Merchan denied Trump’s motion to have the state felony charges in the hush money case dismissed, and confirmed March 25th as the trial date. This trial is expected to last for six weeks.

Lastly we have Georgia, which I haven’t talked about until now, so some context is necessary.

When Special Counsel Smith made his federal charging decisions regarding Jan 6th, he intentionally took a very streamlined path: Trump was the only person named in the indictment, although six unnamed unindicted co-conspirators were noted and are generally believed to include both Rudy Guliani and former chief of staff Mark Meadows.

However, much of the conduct relating to Jan 6th, such as Trump’s famous call with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensberger, also ran afoul of state statutes, particularly in Georgia. As a result the Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis, also launched an investigation. She chose a very different and expansive prosecutorial path than Smith, resulting in Georgia RICO charges being filed against 19 defendants, including Trump and Guliani and Meadows.

The existence of the Georgia Jan 6th case has been considered important by many, due to the fact that if Trump wins election in 2024 then he could make the DOJ dismiss all federal indictments against him (and/or pardon himself if any convictions had occurred), but he can’t do the same with respect to state charges. However, many pundits felt that the Georgia case was so complex that a trial before the 2024 election was unlikely to occur, notwithstanding Willis’ protestations to the contrary. Moreover, it is at best unclear whether a state prosecution of an individual could continue if that defendant were to be elected President.

However, in recent weeks an unforeseen obstacle has arisen, related to Willis’ own personal conduct. Without getting into lurid details, it is conceivable that Georgia State Judge Scott McAfee could rule that Willis has a conflict of interest that would disqualify her and her office from continuing to prosecute the case. In that event, a new prosecutor would need to be assigned, which might delay the trial significantly. Today, Willis herself had to testify about the timing and nature of her alleged romantic relationship with the lawyer she had hired to manage the prosecution of the case.