The judge and prosecutor involved in the Georgia Trump case are seeking reelection

Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has become a familiar figure in the news this year. Clad in a black robe, he has been diligently presiding over the Georgia election interference case involving former President Donald Trump.

On a recent Saturday, McAfee was casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans as he effortlessly filled up a plastic gasoline can. His attention was focused on the task at hand – refueling a cherished family heirloom, a vibrant red 1965 Cadillac Fleetwood. This iconic vehicle has been an integral part of his family for many years.

A sign that says “Keep Judge McAfee” is securely fastened to the roof.

“I have to admit, this is my very first parade,” McAfee confesses, feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves, as he readies himself to march alongside his family in the much-anticipated Inman Park Parade. “I must say, I’m a tad bit anxious. Let’s see if anyone has come prepared with their tomatoes today.”

In the Georgia election interference case, voters this year will not only have the opportunity to decide on the fate of Trump, but also of other key players involved. One such player is Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who serves as the top prosecutor. Additionally, the judge involved in the case will also be on the ballot, giving voters the chance to have a say in the outcome.

According to veteran Fulton Superior Judge Robert McBurney, the current situation is unusual and peculiar. He points out that having the prosecutor, the judge, and one of the defendants all on the ballot is unprecedented. Judge McBurney oversaw the special grand jury initiated by Willis to probe Trump and his co-defendants. This situation emphasizes the conflict between the desire for impartial judges and the practice of electing them.

In other parts of Fulton County, there is another Republican state senator named Shawn Still. He is a co-defendant of Trump and has been accused of signing a false slate of electors for Trump. Like the other defendants, he has pleaded not guilty. Interestingly, Still is also running for re-election this year.

“Staying accessible”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed McAfee, who was 33 at the time, to fill a vacant seat in 2022. After seven months, the court randomly assigned him the Trump case. Now, McAfee is running for a full term and will be facing an opponent in a nonpartisan race this month. Despite the challenges, McAfee finds campaigning to be a valuable experience.

According to McAfee, there are still 400 other cases that haven’t received the same level of attention. He emphasizes the importance of understanding where these individuals are coming from and remaining accessible to them, as they put their lives at risk for their cause.

Robert Patillo, McAfee’s competitor, is an attorney and radio host who emphasizes his experience as a civil rights and defense attorney. In contrast to McAfee, Patillo does not have a background as a prosecutor.

According to Patillo, when you have a specific skill or perspective, it can be easy to see everything through that lens. In his case, he feels that the system is fundamentally flawed and in need of fixing.

Patillo highlights the issue of a backlog of cases in Fulton County, where defendants can spend months or even longer in jail awaiting trial. McAfee takes pride in the progress he has made in reducing the number of cases he inherited.

During his time in law school, McAfee was associated with the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. However, Patillo has expressed concerns about this association, stating that the values of the organization do not align with the predominantly Democratic Fulton County. McAfee, on the other hand, has clarified that he is no longer involved with the group.

“I believe my judicial philosophy has been evident and individuals can interpret it as they see fit,” he declares. “When someone stands before me, it is not about adhering to a particular political agenda or rigid principles.”

Patillo gently criticized McAfee’s handling of the Trump case.

In the case of Georgia v. Trump, McAfee’s initial significant decision, regarding the defendants’ allegations of a conflict of interest due to Willis’ romantic relationship with a special prosecutor, received both praise and criticism. Some believed that McAfee went too far, while others felt that he didn’t go far enough.

After several days of occasionally difficult hearings, McAfee ultimately decided to let Willis continue on the case, but only if the special prosecutor stepped down. However, in his ruling, he also criticized Willis’ behavior, stating, “There is still a lingering sense of dishonesty.”

The Georgia Court of Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments from Trump and other defendants appealing McAfee’s decision. This decision reduces the likelihood of a trial date being set before the presidential election.

According to McAfee, while some people may criticize specific decisions, it is important to consider the entirety of his work throughout the year. He emphasizes that his goal is to always make the right choices and abide by the law.

As McAfee moves between campaign stops, including the local Republican club in Buckhead and a Baptist church with a predominantly Black congregation, voters from all backgrounds are eager to express their opinions on the case. However, McAfee faces restrictions on what he can say about it.

“You seem a bit young to be a judge,” Atlanta resident Dione Martin playfully remarks as McAfee takes a moment to converse along the parade route. McAfee responds, “Age is merely a number,” and kindly directs her to the location of nonpartisan races on the ballot. “You’ll find it at the very bottom,” he adds.

Martin is surprised when she discovers the identity of the person she made fun of. She has been following the Trump case closely, including the recent allegations against Willis and McAfee’s verdict.

Martin expresses his belief that the DA was aware of the need to maintain a professional and meticulous approach. He emphasizes the importance of being thorough and cautious. However, Martin is perplexed by the incident that transpired. He questions how such an oversight could have occurred. Martin still maintains that the issue at hand was not directly related to the merits of the case. Despite this, he is relieved that the DA was able to retain her position. Nevertheless, the situation left him feeling frustrated and exasperated.

“You will know where the truth lies”

Willis is currently running for election and is also participating in the parade. Ahead of her, a few blocks away, she pops her head out of the sunroof of a black SUV, accompanied by an armed guard in the passenger seat. Due to her actions of requesting a grand jury to indict Trump and 18 others for their alleged involvement in interfering with the 2020 election result in Georgia, Willis has been receiving regular death threats. To date, four individuals have pleaded guilty in relation to the case.

The crowd’s reaction varies as a few individuals express their disapproval with boos, while the majority in the forward-thinking neighborhood of Inman Park respond with enthusiastic cheers and applause.

“We love you!” exclaims one enthusiastic party-goer. “Keep it up!” cheers another, while someone else shouts, “Lock him up!” in reference to Trump.

Willis waves, but her request to complete the journey on foot is overridden by the security detail.

Located on the other side of town, K & K Soul Food provides a serene atmosphere for weary movers, security guards, and plumbers to grab a hearty breakfast before heading off to work. This cozy eatery attracts a steady flow of customers seeking the comforting combination of grits, eggs, and catfish to fuel their day ahead.

A table near the entrance is covered with the official seal of the judicial circuit. It is filled with pamphlets promoting youth mentorship, a pretrial diversion program, and resources for domestic violence. Willis attends an outreach event, where a group of TV producers eagerly seek information about the Trump case.

“I apologize if you came here expecting an update on that today,” Willis admits. Lately, the DA has faced criticism for being too vocal about the case.

“I have the ability to handle a wide range of cases, from high-profile ones to everyday ones,” Willis emphasizes. “But I also take pride in pioneering the first-ever Fulton County pre-indictment diversion plan, which offers citizens a second chance.”

Just days after the notorious Trump call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where he asked to “find” him votes, Willis, the first Black woman to be elected district attorney in Fulton County, assumed office.

Willis is asked about what she would say to voters who may question her judgment in light of the conflict of interest allegations in the Trump case.

She asserts that by examining the accomplishments we have achieved and the constructive influence it has had on our community, one can ascertain the truth.

Christian Wise Smith, Willis’ Democratic primary opponent, has made subtle jabs at Willis’ handling of the Trump case. However, this has not been the main focus of Smith’s campaign. Instead, Smith positions himself as a progressive prosecutor, drawing on his personal experiences with the criminal justice system while growing up in Cincinnati to shape his approach to the job.

“I’ve personally experienced the life of the majority of individuals navigating the system, which allows me to approach the topic from a unique perspective,” states Wise Smith.

Willis avoids using labels to describe her approach to criminal justice.

Willis argues against the notion that locking everyone up is a viable solution, deeming it foolish. He believes that such an approach is ineffective. On the other hand, there are individuals who advocate for the complete elimination of prisons and jail cells. It is worth noting that the district attorney in question has a background as a murder prosecutor for eight years.

If Willis emerges victorious in the primary, she will subsequently go head-to-head with a Republican opponent in the November election.

“That’s why I’m voting”

Just two miles down the road is the grand Fulton County Courthouse. This is where Willis once oversaw McAfee in their work in the major case division. It’s also the location where two grand juries convened before Trump’s indictment.

Martin, a voter from Georgia, is often approached by her remote coworkers who are eager to discuss the Trump case. Living so close to the courthouse, she feels a sense of connection to the ongoing legal proceedings.

This year, she feels like she’s right in the middle of history, with a chance to be a part of it.

In one of the most extraordinary and high-stakes criminal cases the country has ever witnessed, she holds the power to cast her vote in favor of or against the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant.

Martin believes that voting is a powerful way to make his voice heard. He firmly believes that individuals have the ability to shape the future through their vote.

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MBS Staff
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