Challenger to the judge in Trump’s 2020 Georgia election interference case is disqualified

ATLANTA (AP) — One of two people who filed paperwork to run against the judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s 2020 Georgia election interference case has been disqualified but says she plans to appeal that decision.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a final decision Tuesday saying that Tiffani Johnson is not qualified to run for the seat held by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee. The decision by Raffensperger, a Republican, follows an administrative law judge’s finding last week that Johnson was unqualified after she failed to appear at a hearing on a challenge to her eligibility.

Johnson said in an emailed statement Wednesday that her team “is appealing this to the Secretary of State and Fulton Superior Court and we are confident we will ultimately prevail.”

McAfee, who previously worked as both a federal and a state prosecutor, took the bench just over a year ago after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed him to fill a vacancy. Even if Johnson’s appeal is unsuccessful, McAfee still faces another challenger, civil rights attorney Robert Patillo, in May’s nonpartisan election.

Johnson’s campaign website says she has experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney and has a background in civil and criminal law.

Georgia law allows any person who is eligible to vote for a candidate to challenge the candidate’s qualifications by filing a complaint with the secretary of state’s office within two weeks of the qualification deadline. A lawyer for Sean Arnold, a Fulton County voter, filed the challenge on March 22, and a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker was held April 2.

Arnold’s complaint notes that the Georgia Constitution requires all judges to “reside in the geographical area in which they are elected to serve.” He noted that in Johnson’s qualification paperwork she listed her home address as being in DeKalb County and wrote that she had been a legal resident of neighboring Fulton County for “0 consecutive years.” The qualification paperwork Johnson signed includes a line that says the candidate is “an elector of the county of my residence eligible to vote in the election in which I am a candidate.”

Kendra-Sue Derby, a strategist with Johnson’s campaign, wrote in an email that the law says superior court judges must live in the district at the time they take office, not at the time of qualifying. She pointed to a code section that lists the following qualifications for superior court judges: They must be at least 30 years old, have lived in Georgia for three years, have practiced law for seven years and be a member in good standing of the state bar.

Walker’s initial decision says Johnson did not appear at the hearing. Notification was sent to Johnson’s home address and to her email address, and a second email was sent to her when she didn’t appear, but no response was received, the judge wrote. Derby said Johnson was never served notification of the hearing.

Walker wrote that the burden of proof is on the candidate to “affirmatively establish eligibility for office” and that Johnson’s failure to appear at the hearing “rendered her incapable of meeting her burden of proof.”

Walker concluded that Johnson is unqualified to be a candidate for superior court judge in the Atlanta Judicial Circuit. Raffensperger adopted the judge’s findings and conclusions in reaching his decision.

The law says that if the secretary of state determines a candidate is not qualified, that person’s name should be withheld from the ballot or stricken from any ballots that have already been printed. If there isn’t enough time to strike the candidate’s name or reprint the ballots, prominent notices are to be placed at polling places advising voters that the candidate is disqualified and that votes cast for her will not be counted.

McAfee has a higher profile than many other superior court judges because he’s presiding over Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ prosecution of Trump. The indictment returned in August accused the Republican former president and 18 others of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to try to illegally overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Four people have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump and the others have pleaded not guilty. McAfee has not yet set a trial date.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up