Rulings in Trump’s Georgia case makes charged Orland Park pastor optimistic, attorney says

A Georgia judge’s recent decisions regarding a criminal racketeering case that includes charges against Orland Park pastor the Rev. Stephen Cliffgard Lee and former President Donald Trump makes Lee “optimistic” about his case, his lawyer says.

In August, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought 41 charges against 19 individuals, including Lee and Trump, accusing the group of conspiring together in an effort to alter the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.

But Judge Scott McAfee recently threw out six of the charges and demanded the resignation of Special Assistant District Attorney Nathan Wade, after it was revealed Wade had a romantic relationship with Willis.

“We’re certainly optimistic about success, that the judge is listening to the arguments, that the district attorney failed to state actual crimes in the indictment,” Lee’s lawyer David Shestokas said Monday.

The charges against Lee concern his interactions with Fulton County poll worker Ruby Freeman, who was falsely accused of committing election crimes by many of the defendants including Lee, the indictment states. Lee is charged with knocking on her door “with intent to knowingly engage in misleading conduct toward Ruby Freemen, by purporting to offer her help, and with intent to influence her testimony,” the indictment states.

None of the six counts McAfee threw out includes any of the charges against Lee. But Shestokas thinks the recent decision strengthens Lee’s case because it sows doubt into the five cases against his client, including the first count under which all 19 defendants are charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Specifically, Shestokas noted McAfee dismissed the state’s argument concerning the recorded phone conversation between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger,

“Count 1 is built upon the whole RICO conspiracy and the whole RICO conspiracy kind of stands on starting with the alleged problematic phone call of President Trump to Secretary Raffensperger. And that count was thrown out,” said Shestokas. “And that makes Count 1 problematic for all defendants. So it’s all kind of falling apart.”

For now, Lee’s case remains in a holding pattern while he waits to see if other defendants’ counsel will trigger the appeals process to have Willis removed from the case. Willis was told by McAfee that she can stay on the case if Wade leaves, which he did. But Trump’s lead defense counsel hinted they would pursue appealing the decision.

“We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place,” Steve Sadow said in a statement he posted on X.

Shestokas has yet to hear back about any other developments in Lee’s case, including when a court date might be or whether his case will be heard separately from the other defendants, as Shestokas requested. That will all have to wait while the question of whether Willis can stay on the case remains debated, Shestokas said.

“I expect that these other issues about who’s going to prosecute — if anybody is going to prosecute the case — is going to be resolved before anything else gets resolved,” he said.

Lee continues to preach at Living Word Lutheran Church just off Wolf Road and West 159th Street in Orland Park.

hsanders@chicagotribune.com