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Aug 18, 2023, 4:29pm EDT
politicsNorth America

A look at Georgia’s last big RICO trial to understand the Trump timeline

Fani Willis gives the opening statement during the APS trial in 2014.
Fani Willis in 2014. Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
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The News

After former U.S. President Donald Trump and 18 other criminal defendants turn themselves in to the local jail in Fulton County, Ga. next week, all eyes will be on the timeline of the trial in the massive racketeering case.

District Attorney Fani Willis wants the trial to start March 4, 2024, a date that legal experts agree is ambitious. One defendant in the case has already formally pushed back on that timeline.

For context on how long it could realistically take, here’s a look at a past racketeering case in the same courthouse that ensnared over two dozen defendants and ended up being the longest trial in Georgia history.

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Know More

In 2013, a grand jury indicted 35 Atlanta Public Schools teachers and administrators accused of participating in a scheme to illegally change students’ standardized test scores.

Just like in the Trump case, the defendants were charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and Willis was the lead prosecutor on the case.

The case was complex to begin with, and a litany of pretrial motions only lengthened the time it took to get to trial.

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By 2015, when the trial finally began, most of the defendants had pleaded guilty. Of the 35 indicted, 12 went to trial, and 11 were found guilty. The trial itself lasted eight months, the longest in Georgia’s history.

And proceedings in the case have continued into this year, as some of the convicted educators sought reductions in their sentences.

The APS cheating scandal case will likely lose it title as the state’s longest trial to the ongoing RICO case in Fulton County against alleged members of the Young Slime Life gang, including rapper Young Thug. Jury selection, which began in January, has yet to be completed.

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The View From Trump's co-defendant

Former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, one of the alleged co-conspirators charged in the Trump case, was the first to formally dispute Willis’ six-month trial start.

In a filing Thursday, a lawyer for Clark said the DA’s office “has no earthly idea whether any of the proposed dates fit the calendars of any, much less all of the dozens of busy attorneys who will be involved in representing the Defendants.”

He also said prosectors need to understand the “magnitude of motions” that will be filed.

Clark accused Willis of setting a politically-motivated trial timeline, saying she is trying “to stake out a place at the head of the line of prosecutors seeking the ‘prize’ of trying the former President before the 2024 presidential election.”

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The View From Gov. Brian Kemp

Speaking at a conservative conference in Atlanta on Friday, the Georgia governor said that “despite what dates anybody is asking for, it’s not going to happen before the election.”

It was part of Kemp’s message that Republicans should focus on taking back the White House in 2024 instead of “stupid” distractions like relitigating the 2020 election.

Kemp has no say over the dates of the trial; that’ll be decided by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who was assigned the case. It could also be influenced by other factors, like Trump’s three other criminal cases and whether some of the Georgia defendants have their cases moved to federal court.

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