Judge discusses rules for special questions from lawmakers’ grand jury

ATLANTA (AP) — A judge is considering what guidelines to place on questions that can be asked of Georgia state lawmakers called before a special grand jury in an investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the election. 2020 in the state. .

Lawyers representing a former state legislator and the state’s lieutenant governor had asked the judge to vacate subpoenas for them to testify before the panel, citing immunity and legislative privilege. If he disagreed with that, they said in a motion filed earlier this week, they urged him to set guidelines for questioning.

“I’m not going to vacate any of these subpoenas, but I do want to provide a framework so that it’s not every third question that we call a wait time,” said Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversees the grand jury. special, at a hearing on Friday.

He said he would provide that guidance in a written ruling. He also said he would make sure to be available on days when state lawmakers are called before the panel to address any conflicts that arise.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the investigation early last year and in January of this year took the unusual step of requesting a special purpose grand jury. She wrote in a letter to the chief judge of the county superior court that her team believes the 2020 general election “was subject to potential criminal disruption” and is investigating “any coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 election in This status”.

The special grand jury sat in May and began hearing witnesses in June. Senior state elected officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr, have already appeared before the special grand jury. At least three Democratic members of the General Assembly have also testified before the panel.

Former state senator William Ligon, who did not seek re-election in 2020, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan were subpoenaed to testify before the special grand jury this month. Attorneys Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer, who have been retained as special deputy legislative counsel, filed the motion to vacate those subpoenas.

They argue that the state Constitution provides immunity for legislators and their staff, citing a provision that says no member of the General Assembly “shall be bound to answer anywhere else for anything said in either house or in any meeting.” committee of either house.

They assert that such protection covers any legislative activity, including participation in debates, hearings, and committee meetings; conversations with staff and other legislators and their staff about legislative matters; and all other activities within their official responsibilities.

Ligon chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing on December 3, 2020, during which Rudy Giuliani, a Trump attorney, and others spoke for several hours and filed allegations of alleged voter fraud, many of which “have been shown to be false.” completely false”. Willis argued in response to the motion. Ligon then released a report that summarized public comments during the hearing and presented the claims made by Giuliani and others “as true ‘findings’ even as they had been publicly (and repeatedly) debunked by state officials for weeks,” Willis wrote.

The report concluded with the suggestion that if a majority of state legislators agree with the report’s conclusions, certification of the 2020 election should be rescinded and the General Assembly “should act to determine the appropriate electors to be certified before the Electoral College. in the 2020 presidential race.

“The General Assembly cannot, neither in 2020 nor today, ‘rectify’ election results by changing the result of a certified election that has already taken place, and it is never, and never can be, considered a legitimate ‘legislative duty’ to try to do it,” Willis wrote.

McBurney noted during Friday’s hearing that both sides agree there is legislative immunity, which is a question of where the line should be drawn for special grand jury questioning. Communications between lawmakers and their staff or between lawmakers during or in preparation for legislative proceedings are privileged, she said, but it’s less clear where the line is for communications with third parties in this context.

McBurney said any guidance that comes out of Friday’s hearing won’t just apply to Ligon and Duncan, but will likely have a “carryover effect” when other lawmakers appear before the special grand jury. But he acknowledged that each lawmaker’s situation may require some degree of individual evaluation.


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