A recent 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling involving a Georgia man who claims to be an heir to the Moroccan kingdom may not bode well for Mark Meadows’ attempt to move the election interference charges against him in Georgia.
The case of the aspiring heir, decided in October, raised the question of whether a statute applying to federal officials also extends to former federal officials — in Meadows case, whether he can still invoke the Federal Officer Removal Statute when he is no longer a federal officer. The 234-year-old statute allows federal officials charged with state crimes to transfer them to federal court when they are related to their official duties.
A three-judge panel of federal appeals court judges heard oral arguments over the jurisdiction of Meadows’ case on Friday. Meadows, who was White House chief of staff under former President Donald Trump, was charged in Fulton County, Georgia — along with Trump and 17 others — with conspiring to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss. Four of those charged have already agreed to cooperate, including two lawyers involved with the effort,and , and a bail bondsman named , who entered guilty pleas. Trump, Meadows and others have denied wrongdoing.
Meadows contends that his case should be moved to federal court because he was a federal official when the alleged criminal conduct occurred, and he was acting within the scope of his duties as a federal officer at the time.
The three-judge panel, appointed by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, asked pressing questions of both sides during the 40 minutes of arguments. They expressed skepticism about the arguments put forth by Meadows’s attorney, including his assertion that the charges against Meadows could be dismissed under the federal immunity defense.
“According to [Meadows], it seems like everything was within his official duties. And that just cannot be right,” said Judge Robin Rosenbaum during the proceeding.
The appeal from Meadows comes after U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Jonesto move the case to federal court, siding with prosecutors who contended the evidence “established that the actions at the heart of the state’s charges were taken on behalf of the Trump campaign with the goal of affecting state election activities and procedures.”
Donald Wakeford, a prosecutor in the office of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, also argued during the appeals proceeding that Meadows should not be able to move his case to federal court because he is no longer a federal officer.
Judge William H. Pryor noted, “It might well be that Congress could rationally assume there’s a heightened reason for removal where you’re dealing with a current officer, because it involves ongoing operations of the federal government.”
“And that heightened concern might not exist, where you have a former officer, because it doesn’t involve the ongoing operations of the government,” he said.
But the judges also expressed concern about the potential for a “chilling effect” that keeping the case in state court could have.
“Doesn’t that create a chilling effect in some way on people who might consider running for office, for people who are in office, and maybe they think twice about what they’re going to do because they are concerned about being indicted later and not being able to have a trial in a federal forum,” said Judge Rosenbaum.
All three judges on the panel were in the majority of the decision in October, which vacated the conviction of Timothy Pate, a man who described himself as the heir to the kingdom of Morocco. Pate had filed millions of dollars in liens against the properties of former and current IRS officials who he thought had wronged him. He was convicted of filing false retaliatory liens against federal officials, but he challenged the conviction by arguing that because two of the IRS officers were no longer federal employees when he filed the liens, he had not committed a federal crime. The 11th Circuit threw out Pate’s convictions.
Just three days after issuing that ruling, the court ordered Meadows and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office to file supplemental briefs on whether the court’s analysis in Pate permits a “former” federal officer to remove a criminal prosecution from state to federal court. In essence, the precedent of Pate puts into question one of the key conditions for removal, which is whether Meadows can still be considered a federal official for the purposes of the statute.
Wakeford emphasized that the removal statute is meant to protect federal authority, yet “ultimately, this is a case where, once again, there is no federal authority to protect.”
No ruling has been issued on the appeal. Four other defendants in the Fulton County racketeering case are also seeking to have their cases moved to federal courts and have appeals pending in the 11th Circuit.