Fulton 19 Update: Jones probe, Trump gets NYC day in court, Georgia summer trial date off track

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A special prosecutor was appointed April 11 to investigate the conduct of Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones during the 2020 presidential election. Jones said he welcomed the chance to be cleared of any wrongdoing and accused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of making a mockery of the legal system. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder (file photo)

Pete Skandalakis, the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, will lead an investigation into whether Lt. Gov. Burt Jones’ actions after the 2020 presidential election warrant criminal charges for illegally interfering in Georgia’s electoral vote count.

Georgia’s prosecutors council announced on Thursday they were appointing Skandalakis as special prosecutor, about two years after the state agency was tasked with selecting a district attorney or another bar-certified lawyer with the legal gravitas to take charge of a high-profile investigation into the second highest ranking elected official in state government. 

Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney barred District Attorney Fani Willis from prosecuting Jones in the same racketeering election interference case as Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants, after finding that Willis had a conflict of interest because she hosted a fundraiser for a Democratic candidate who ran against Jones for lieutenant governor during election season in 2022.

Skandalakis, who spent 25 years as the district attorney for the Coweta County judicial circuit, since 2017 has been head of the agency that represents district attorneys and state employees working in prosecutor offices throughout Georgia.

As special prosecutor, Skandalakis will decide whether to press the case against Jones for falsely claiming Trump won Georgia’s 2020 election. A state senator at the time, Jones also pushed for a special session of the Legislature in an attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia.

Jones and several of his Republican colleagues were unsuccessful in their calls for Gov. Brian Kemp to order a special session, which the governor said was unconstitutional.

Jones released a statement late last week saying he expected a quick resolution to a case while disparaging Willis.

“I’m happy to see this process move forward and look forward to the opportunity to get this charade behind me,” Jones said. “Fani Willis has made a mockery of this legal process, as she tends to do. I look forward to a quick resolution and moving forward with the business of the state of Georgia.”

Calls for Willis to step down from the case have grown since she admitted at a Jan. 15 court hearing that she had a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, a trial attorney she hired to lead the case. Fulton County has paid Wade more than $700,000 and defense attorneys say trips he took to Aruba and other vacation spots with Willis amount to a conflict of interest for the DA.

The Republican-led state Legislature has also passed a bill that establishes a prosecutors oversight commission to investigate claims of misconduct and other allegations against district attorneys. That panel could target Willis.

Trump New York fraud case starts Monday

Donald Trump is scheduled to be inside a Manhattan courtroom on Monday morning for the start of jury selection for the remainder of his criminal trial that prosecutors anticipate will last about six weeks.

The New York trial focuses on accusations Trump falsified business records to hide hush money paid to keep adult film star Stormy Daniels from disclosing details about an alleged extramarital affair with Trump in 2006.

Prosecutors must convince jurors that bookkeeping errors were committed with the aim of illegally affecting an election. Trump also denies he was romantically involved with Daniels.

New York prosecutors plan to present evidence at the trial to show Trump funneled money to repay his lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 allegedly paid to Daniels in the final month leading up to the 2016 election showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

There are four criminal cases against Trump in progress, and the New York case is the first to go to trial. Trump on Monday becomes the first former president in the nation’s history to face a trial on felony charges. New York law requires defendants to be in court throughout the proceedings.

Fulton trial unlikely to start by Nov 5 election

The odds of Fulton County’s charges against Trump reaching a courtroom before the Nov. 5 presidential election continue to fade.

Trump is on course for a rematch of the 2020 contest against Biden.

Willis’ chance of starting the trial by preferred target of late summer likely depends on how an appellate court responds to motions filed by Trump and multiple co-defendants in their quest to disqualify Willis from the case for what they claim is prosecutorial misconduct.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has until mid-May to decide if it’ll review Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Willis to remain on the case following the resignation of Wade, the special prosecutor, on March 15.

Willis is fighting calls to stop her from prosecuting the case. A motion she filed last week argues there aren’t any legal grounds for McAfee’s ruling to be reviewed by the court of appeals.

“Setting aside whether Wade’s removal from the case was, in fact, necessary, he withdrew from representation hours after the trial court issued its order, and the District Attorney accepted the resignation,” Willis wrote.

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