A Fulton County Superior Court judge who has presided over key parts of the Georgia probe against former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn 2020 election results in the Peach State has demonstrated a willingness to speak frankly to both sides of the contentious proceeding.
It’s unclear whether Judge Robert McBurney will preside over Trump’s trial, if he is charged. But McBurney presided over the selection process for the grand jury last month that will hear the Trump case.
His rulings and temperament have already had a deep impact on the closely watched matter, in which indictments are expected to be handed up from a grand jury this week.
McBurney, a Harvard-educated lawyer who was appointed by then-Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012, oversaw the special grand jury that collected evidence in the investigation.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, is expected to seek charges against more than a dozen individuals when she presents her case before a grand jury, sources familiar with the matter have told CNN. Charges could include racketeering, conspiracy and more.
Last month, in a major ruling, McBurney rejected Trump’s request to throw out the evidence collected by the special grand jury and to disqualify Willis from overseeing the criminal investigation because of her public comments about the case.
“The drumbeat from the District Attorney has been neither partisan (in the political sense) nor personal, in marked and refreshing contrast to the stream of personal invective flowing from one of the movants,” McBurney wrote, in an apparent swipe at the Trump team’s barbed filings regarding Willis.
He continued: “Put differently, the District Attorney’s Office has been doing a fairly routine – and legally unobjectionable – job of public relations in a case that is anything but routine.”
However, in a major ruling earlier in the investigation, McBurney blocked Willis from investigating Burt Jones, then a Republican state senator, who was one of the fake electors who signed an illegitimate Electoral College certificate. (Jones is now Georgia’s lieutenant governor.)
Willis had hosted a campaign fundraiser for Jones’ Democratic opponent in the Georgia lieutenant governor’s race, Charley Bailey, for which McBurney criticized Willis. “It’s a ‘What are you thinking’ moment,” he said at the time. “The optics are horrific.”
In his recent ruling denying Trump’s bid to shut down the probe, McBurney referenced the Jones dispute, saying Willis had “injected direct partisanship into a criminal investigation that should remain as politically neutral as possible” when it came to Jones. But McBurney concluded that Willis didn’t cross that line with Trump.
McBurney was previously a former federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia and the state prosecutor in Fulton County, according to the Fulton County court website.
In some other notable cases, McBurney overturned Georgia’s six-week abortion ban before it was reinstated by the Supreme Court last year. In his opinion, he wrote that when Georgia lawmakers passed the bill and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law in 2019, “the supreme law of this land unequivocally was – and had been for nearly half a century – that laws unduly restricting abortion before viability were unconstitutional.”
In 2014, he was the presiding judge in a family dispute between the children of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding control of his Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.
King’s daughter, Bernice, did not want to give the items to her brothers, arguing that he wanted to sell them. Bernice King’s lawyer said she wasn’t interested in selling “critical, sacred items,” no matter the price.
The judge compared Bernice King’s stance against the sale of her father’s possessions to Coca-Cola not wanting to sell its cola recipe. McBurney later noted he was not trivializing the value of King’s possessions with the comparison. The dispute was resolved with McBurney signing a consent order that turned over the items to Bernice King’s brothers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2016.