Trump Georgia Case Prosecutor Warns of Lawyers’ Potential Conflict of Interest

Trump Georgia Case Prosecutor Warns of Lawyers’ Potential Conflict of Interest
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building in Atlanta on Aug. 14, 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Petr Svab

Five lawyers representing some of the defendants in the case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia face potential conflicts of interest, according to Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney prosecuting the case.

The lawyers previously represented clients who are now witnesses in the case, so the lawyers might have to cross-examine their former clients during trial, Ms. Willis said in a Sept. 20 court filing (pdf).

Ms. Willis brought the case on Aug. 14 alleging that the efforts of President Trump and 18 others to challenge the 2020 election results amounted to a racketeering conspiracy.

Prosecutors are required to inform the court when they learn of potential conflicts of interest. The lawyers may have to obtain written consent from their previous clients in order to be allowed to stay on the case, the filing indicated.

“There is a significant risk that the Rules of Professional Conduct [for Georgia lawyers] may be violated, which may compromise the rights of certain witnesses for the State of Georgia should those witnesses be cross-examined by their former attorneys,” Ms. Willis wrote.

“Further, there is a significant risk that representation of the affected Defendants in this matter may be materially affected, which could affect certain rights, including all of the Defendants’ rights to due process and a fundamentally fair trial.”

Lawyer Chris Anulewicz, who currently represents defendant Robert Cheeley, previously represented Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of the Georgia State Election Board. Not only are Mr. Raffensperger and the board members witnesses for the prosecution, but Mr. Anulewicz also is a witness, according to Ms. Willis.

Lawyer Amanda Palmer, who currently represents defendant Ray Smith, previously represented SullivanStrickler LLC, former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and “other members of the Georgia General Assembly,” Ms. Willis said, noting that all of those are witnesses for the state.

Lawyer Bruce Morris, who also represents Mr. Smith, previously represented Paul Maggio, chief operating officer at SullivanStrickler.

Lawyer Donald Samuel, also representing Mr. Smith, previously represented Mr. Duncan, “other members of the Georgia General Assembly,” and Keith Williams, general counsel to the office of the Georgia House Speaker. Mr. Williams is also a witness for the prosecution, Ms. Willis said.

Lawyer Scott Grubman, who currently represents defendant Kenneth Chesebro, previously represented Mr. Raffensperger and his wife, Patricia, who are both witnesses for the state, Ms. Willis said.

Lawyer Harry MacDougald, who currently represents defendant Jeffrey Clark, previously represented C.J. Pearson, Vikki Consiglio, Gloria Godwin, James Carroll, Carolyn Fisher, and Cathleen Latham in a case challenging the 2020 election. Lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell were co-counsels on the case. Mr. MacDougald also represented Mr. Wood in a separate case. All of those are witnesses in the Trump case except Ms. Latham and Ms. Powell, who are defendants, Ms. Willis said.

The prosecutor cited a case from which a lawyer was dismissed after he informed the court that while previously representing a potential witness in the case, he learned confidential information that could be used to undermine the witness's credibility.

"The [Georgia] Court of Appeals noted that, in that case, the conflict could have been waived if both the current and former clients had consulted with their attorney, had received in writing reasonable and adequate information about the material risks and reasonable available alternatives to the representation, and had an opportunity to consult with independent counsel," Ms. Willis said.

"Here, no attorney has provided documentation that their former clients have provided informed consent to disclose information gained from that representation, and there is a risk that information gained from former clients may be used to their disadvantage or that confidential information related to the representation may be revealed."

Many of the potential conflicts stem from the fact that a number of the witnesses sought counsel when they testified before the special purpose grand jury that investigated the Trump case last year.

Prosecutors said their case involves more than 150 witnesses. Many of those apparently overlap with the 75 witnesses who testified before the special purpose grand jury.

The sprawling case is based on complicated provisions in the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. While prosecutors have estimated it would take four months to try, Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the case, said that it could be twice that. Two defendants, Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell, will be tried starting on Oct. 23, and the rest will be left for a later date, the judge decided.

Several defendants are trying to get their cases dismissed before trial, and some are trying to have their cases removed to federal court.

President Trump has condemned the prosecution as political interference in his 2024 presidential run.

Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.