Wednesday, September 28

Judge denies lawmakers’ challenge to testify for special grand jury in Trump election probe


A Fulton County judge has denied a motion to challenge subpoenas by two state lawmakers to testify in front of the special grand jury looking into potential election tampering by former President Donald Trump.

The special grand jury was seated in May at the request of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who said in a letter to the county superior court chief judge that her team believes the 2020 general election “was subject to possible criminal disruptions” and is looking into “any coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 elections in this state.”

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and former state Sen. William Ligon have to testify in front of the grand jury but also set limits on what grand jurors may ask them and other state lawmakers who are summoned.

Attorneys for Duncan and Ligon tried to say that legislative privilege protected them from having to testify.

Ligon, who did not seek reelection in 2020, chaired the Dec. 3, 2020, committee hearing where Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others spoke. Attorneys Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer, who have been engaged as special assistant legislative counsel, argued on behalf of Ligon and Duncan — who also serves as president of the Senate — that the subpoenas should be quashed. The lawyers told the judge they would likely represent other state lawmakers called before the special grand jury as well.

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The Georgia Constitution says no member of the General Assembly “shall be liable to answer in any other place for anything spoken in either house or in any committee meeting of either house.” McBurney said that’s important to allow lawmakers to speak freely to each other while conducting legitimate legislative activity.

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As a result, McBurney wrote in his order, prosecutors and grand jurors cannot ask a lawmaker “about anything he said while participating in any session of the legislature, be that on the floor of the body or in subcommittee.” That includes conversations and documents prepared by a lawmaker or legislative staff. Elected officials’ motivations for actions taken during a legislative session are not subject to scrutiny by a grand jury, he wrote.

Lawmakers also may not be asked about direct communications with other legislators in preparing for any legislative session or drafting any legislation or official report, McBurney wrote.

But legislative privilege does not extend to communications with private citizens on topics related to the grand jury investigation, even if those communications took place during the performance of legislative duties, McBurney wrote.

McBurney also denied a request from Ligon to delay his testimony before the grand jury until September to accommodate his lawyer’s trial schedule. The judge said Ligon must be available to testify for two hours while the grand jury is meeting Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday of next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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