One of the newest judges on the Fulton County Superior Court bench, Scott McAfee, has been assigned the sprawling racketeering case that charges former president Donald Trump and 18 allies with scheming to undo Trump’s 2020 election defeat in Georgia and elsewhere.
McAfee, a lifelong Georgian who lives in Atlanta, was nominated to fill a vacancy on the bench earlier this year by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who had previously praised McAfee as “a tough prosecutor” who could “bring those to justice who break the law.”
Though McAfee was assigned the case soon after the indictment was handed up on Monday evening, it could be transferred to a different judge later in the process.
District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) has given Trump and others indicted in the case until noon on Aug. 25 to surrender, and says she will seek to try all 19 defendants together. Trump’s legal team has begun negotiations about scheduling his surrender and initial court appearance, a person close to the former president said Tuesday.
The indictment placed an immediate national spotlight on McAfee. Three Georgia attorneys who are familiar with his career told The Washington Post in interviews Tuesday that the judge’s background as a former state and federal prosecutor and state inspector general may have helped prepare him to preside over a complex, contentious and high-profile case.
Keith R. Blackwell, a retired Georgia Supreme Court justice for whom McAfee worked as a judicial intern in 2012, described him as having a “down-to-earth” temperament. McAfee’s work, Blackwell said, was driven by following “the law, as best he can, wherever it leads.”
Atlanta defense attorney Tom Church, who has represented clients McAfee helped prosecute on federal drug charges, called him laid-back and said he has brought a fresh outlook to the bench.
“He’s not cynical about it,” Church said. “Overall, his reputation is that of being diligent. Because he’s relatively new, he’s going to be especially focused on getting it right and being deliberate.”
McAfee is known in Atlanta legal and political circles as a conservative, Church said, adding, “He’s not an ideologue.”
The judge has previously allowed video of court proceedings to air online, including on the YouTube channel that bears his name and title. He speaks to attorneys and defendants with a hint of a Southern drawl, the channel shows, and an American flag stands behind his chair on an elevated bench.
Georgia attorney Matt Wetherington, who has appeared before McAfee in court and knows him socially, said McAfee “asks good questions, he listens, he does his homework.”
Shortly after he took the bench, McAfee weighed in on a matter tied to public statements and the 2020 election, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. In June, McAfee fined L. Lin Wood, who prominently spread misinformation about the 2020 election, for being in contempt of court after Wood made statements that ran afoul of a court order, the newspaper said.
McAfee has worked off and on in the public realm for more than a decade, including eight years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Justice Department in the Northern District of Georgia. There, he prosecuted drug trafficking organizations, fraud and illegal firearms possession, according to a March 2021 news release from Kemp’s office that announced McAfee’s appointment as inspector general.
McAfee also worked on the state level as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County, where he handled many felony cases, from armed robbery to murder, the news release said.
As inspector general, McAfee investigated claims of fraud, waste and abuse in the executive branch of state government.
McAfee earned his law degree from the University of Georgia. He plays the cello and majored in music as an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta.
He is running for election to a full four-year term on the bench in 2024, according to his campaign website. Judicial elections in Georgia are nonpartisan. McAfee’s priorities include clearing a backlog of cases that piled up during the pandemic and holding violent offenders accountable.
“I look forward to continuing my service as your Fulton Superior Court Judge, delivering timely justice for all,” his website said.
Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.