Home News Georgia Judge Rejects Effort to Dismiss Trump Case on Free Speech Grounds

Georgia Judge Rejects Effort to Dismiss Trump Case on Free Speech Grounds

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Georgia Judge Rejects Effort to Dismiss Trump Case on Free Speech Grounds

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A judge in Atlanta on Thursday rejected an effort by former President Donald J. Trump and his co-defendants to have the Georgia criminal case against them dismissed on grounds that it was based on comments that were protected by the First Amendment.

The case charges Mr. Trump and 14 of his supporters with taking part in a conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. Defense lawyers had argued that some of the charges were based on statements the co-defendants had made in a political context, which they said was constitutionally protected speech.

“Take out the political speech, no charges,” Steven H. Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, said at a hearing late last month.

But the ruling on Thursday from Judge Scott McAfee, of Fulton County Superior Court, noted that “free speech — including political speech — is not without restriction.”

“Even core political speech addressing matters of public concern is not impenetrable from prosecution if allegedly used to further criminal activity,” Judge McAfee wrote.

He noted, however, that the bar for certain legal challenges was higher in the pretrial phase. The judge wrote that he was not “foreclosing the ability to raise” a First Amendment challenge later in the case.

Mr. Sadow said in a statement that Mr. Trump and his co-defendants “will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges.”

The argument that the First Amendment should shield Mr. Trump from being prosecuted for efforts to overturn the 2020 election has previously been rejected by a U.S. District Court judge, Tanya Chutkan, in a separate federal prosecution unfolding in Washington, D.C.

The Georgia case is one of four criminal cases that Mr. Trump is facing. A trial date of April 15 has been set for a New York State case in which the former president is accused of covering up a sex scandal as he was running for president in 2016.

Mr. Trump seems unlikely to go to trial in Georgia before the November presidential election. For much of this year, the case took a detour as defendants sought the disqualification of Fani T. Willis, the district attorney leading it. They said that Ms. Willis had created a conflict of interest by engaging in a romantic relationship with Nathan J. Wade, a lawyer she had hired to manage the prosecution of Mr. Trump.

Last month, Judge McAfee ruled that an “actual” conflict of interest did not exist, but that “the appearance of impropriety” remained. To solve the problem, the judge gave Ms. Willis a choice: either Mr. Wade could step away from the case, or she and her entire office could do so. Mr. Wade resigned a few hours later.

Mr. Trump and other defendants in the case are seeking to appeal the judge’s decision.

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