“Defendants Chesebro and Powell will join each other at trial, however, the other 17 defendants are severed from these two. Additional severances may follow. All pretrial deadlines will proceed as scheduled without a stay of proceedings,” Judge Scott McAfee at the Superior Court of Fulton County wrote in a ruling issued on Thursday.
The trial for Mr Chesebro and Ms Powell is set to go ahead on 23 October.
The move comes after Mr Chesebro and Ms Powell invoked their right to a speedy trial, the judge noted. Their motions to sever their cases from each other were denied but the court found that “severing the remaining 17 co-defendants is simply a procedural and logistical inevitability,” leading to the motions to sever from Mr Chesebro and Ms Powell being “granted in part”.
“Severance is an absolute necessity. Additional divisions of these 17 defendants may well be required,” the judge, 34, added. “That is a decision for another day once the many anticipated pretrial motions have been resolved and a realistic trial date approaches.”
The judge wrote that joint trials are “generally favoured” because they “promote judicial efficiency and prevent inconsistent verdicts”.
He added that any defendant who doesn’t waive their right to a speedy trial before 23 October, as Mr Trump has, will “immediately” be added to that trial.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis attempted to get all 19 defendants in the case, including the former president, to be tried together.
“Breaking this case up into multiple lengthy trials would create an enormous strain on the judicial resources of the Fulton County Superior Court,” prosecutors wrote in a filing.
But Judge McAfee wrote in his order that “the precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant’s due process rights and preparation ensure adequate pretrial preparation on the current accelerated track weights heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance”.
Judge McAfee added that there are also a number of logistical challenges to holding a trial with that number of defendants.
“The Fulton County Courthouse simply contains no courtroom adequately large enough to hold all 19 defendants, their multiple attorneys and support staff, the sheriff’s deputies, court personnel, and the state’s prosecutorial team,” he wrote. “Relocating to another larger venue raises security concerns that cannot be rapidly addressed.”
Mr Trump and his 18 co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty to all the charges they face. The former president has argued that the racketeering indictment is politically motivated and that the charges of election interference against him are actually interfering with his 2024 run to take back the White House.
In the indictment, Mr Chesebro is accused of creating a plan to employ “alternate electors” to stop President Joe Biden from reaching the required 270 electoral votes to become commander in chief. Mr Chesebro’s lawyers have argued that he was simply “fulfilling his duty to his client as an attorney,” according to ABC News.
Ms Powell stands accused of conspiring to commit election fraud by supposedly urging others to tamper with ballot markers and machines at a Coffee County elections office.