Courts & Litigation Democracy & Elections

Transcript of Jenna Ellis's Plea Hearing in Georgia

Anna Hickey
Tuesday, October 24, 2023, 5:08 PM
Jenna Ellis is the fourth co-defendant to plead guilty in the Fulton County 2020 election subversion case.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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On Oct. 24, Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty to one felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements and writings in the Fulton County election interference case. Ellis pleaded guilty to working with Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith to submit false statements to the Georgia Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, including allegations of unsubstantiated voter fraud. 

Below is an AI-generated, unofficial transcript of the hearing, which has been edited to remove typos and other transcription errors but has not been manually verified. Watch the hearing here.

Judge McAfee:  All right, let's go on the record with 23 SC 188947 State versus Jenna Ellis. We have the state here present in court today, as well as Miss Ellis and her attorney. And just for the record, sir, you can identify yourself. 

Franklin Hogue: Yes. Thank you, your honor. I'm Franklin Hogue, this is my law partner and wife, Laura Hogue and we represent Jenna Ellis. 

Laura Hogue: Good morning your honor . 

Judge: Good morning y’all. So collective welcome to the Hogues. And I understand that we've again been requested to schedule an impromptu hearing on a change of plea. Is that correct Mr. Wade? 

Wade: It is correct, Judge. 

Judge: And is Ms. Young taking the lead on this?

Wade: She is. 

Judge: And if all the terms, are there any other terms that we need to go over or is everything agreed to between the parties?

Wade: Everything's agreed to and negotiated, Judge. 

Judge: All right, well, if that's the case, then why don't we, uh, have Miss Young come back up to a microphone either at the jury box or in the witness stand and we can go through the colloquy. Yes, sir. 

Wade: Just want to point out that also, um, Miss Ellis also has counsel, um, out of state, Mr. Melito. He's present in the courtroom and he wanted to get permission to come and have a seat at counsel table. 

Judge: Certainly. Um, sir, I think we also need you to spell your name for the record just so we're clear. 

Melito: Yes your honor, it’s M E L I T O.

Judge: Okay, welcome. All right. Uh, then let's get into it. Mr Hogue, do you have a preference between the podium or counsel's table?

Hogue: We can just stay here if that's all right your honor .

Judge: That sounds fine to me. Um, all right, Ms. Young, whenever you're ready.

Young: Ma'am can, Ms. Ellis, can you please raise your right hand? Do you swear, affirm the testimony you're about to give shall be the truth and the whole truth, so help you God. 

Ellis: I do. 

Young: And are you the Jenna El, Jenna Lynn Ellis that's named in accusation 23SC190514, charge of one count of aid and abetting false statements in writing. 

Ellis: Yes, ma'am. 

Young: And is this your true and correct legal name? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Are you under the influence of any drugs, alcohol or medication today? 

Ellis: No. 

Young: Is there any medication that you should be taking that you have not taken today? 

Ellis: No. 

Young: How old are you and how far did you go in school?

Ellis: 38 years old, uh, 39 on November 1st, so very soon. And I completed my Juris Doctor degree. 

Young: And are you able to read, write and understand the English language? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Have you gone over this accusation with your attorneys, Mr. and Mrs. Hogue? 

Ellis: I have. 

Young: Do you understand that you're charged with one count of aiding and abetting false statements in writings?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Have you gone over the minimum and maximum sentence with your attorneys? 

Ellis: I have. 

Young: And do you understand that that carries a minimum penalty of one year to a maximum penalty of five years to serve? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that you have the right to plead guilty or not guilty to this charge? And if you plead not guilty, you have the right to remain silent and move forward with the jury trial. 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Have you reviewed the waiver of rights with your attorneys? 

Ellis: I have. 

Young: And have you gone over that waiver of rights and also signed it along with your attorneys?

Ellis: I have. 

Young: Have you had enough time to speak with your attorneys in regards to the facts in this case and any defenses that you may have if you were to have gone to trial? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you need any more time to speak with them? 

Ellis: No. 

Young: And are you satisfied with their services? 

Ellis: Very much. 

Young: Mr. Hogue, do you waive formal reading of the accusation against your client?

Hogue: We do. 

Young: Do you waive any defects that may lay within the accusation? 

Hogue: We do. 

Young: Ms. Ellis, have you been arrested on these charges? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: And the states understand that there are no other outstanding related warrants to this charge. Do you know of any to your knowledge? 

Ellis: I do not. 

Young: Do you understand that this is a negotiated plea, which means the state and your attorneys have reached a recommendation to make to the court?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that the court is not bound by that recommendation and could send you to the maximum penalty for this charge? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that the court does not follow the state's recommendations and you can withdraw your guilty plea and move forward with the jury trial?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that the conditions of this plea involves five years of probation, that you pay $5,000 of restitution to the Georgia Secretary of State within 30 days, and it's in my understanding that you're asking to be treated as a first offender? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that a special condition of this probation is that you complete 100 hours of community service, that you write an apology letter to the citizens of the state of Georgia, which you have already done and the state will put that into evidence in state’s exhibit one for the court. That you testify truthfully at all hearings or trials involving co defendants, that you have no communication with co defendants, witnesses or the media until all cases have been closed. 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: That you must continue to provide additional recorded statements and affidavits to the state as required. That you must also continue to provide any requested documents or evidence subject to any lawful privileges asserted in good faith that you shall not post anything on social media, including through any agents about this case until the conclusion of all trials and appeals that you must continue to fully cooperate with prosecutors including, but not limited to, participating in interviews with prosecutors appearing for evidentiary hearings, and assisting in pretrial matters. Do you understand that these are the conditions of the, of the recommendation that the state is making to the court? 

Ellis: I do. 

Young: It is my understanding that, have you gone over the first offender status with your attorneys? 

Ellis: I have. 

Young: And you're asking this court to be treated as a first offender. 

Ellis: Yes, ma'am. 

Young: Have you played guilty or nolo ever in this state of Georgia or any other jurisdiction?

Ellis: Uh, no. 

Young: Have you ever been sentenced for any crime, felony or misdemeanor under the First Offender Act? 

Ellis: No. 

Young: And you've gone over the first offender act with your attorneys. And do you understand that if you violate the terms of your first offender sentence or commit a new offense while on first offender probation, your first offender status could be revoked and you could be adjudicated guilty and you could be re-sentenced up to the maximum sentence for, for this charge and the accusation?

Ellis: I understand. 

Young: Do you understand that this guilty plea may be used to enhance sentencing of other, any other convictions in this jurisdiction as well as other jurisdictions, including the federal courts? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that you are being placed on probation and you cannot violate your probation by committing any other crimes in any governmental unit or any, or violate any special conditions of your probation.

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that if you violate the probation or any special conditions that you will be subject to revocation for the balance of the sentence. 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that you are not allowed to possess any or use any firearms while you're on probation?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that if you are not a United States citizen, this guilty plea will affect your immigration status and will result in deportation? 

Ellis: I understand. 

Young: Do you understand that there may be other adverse or unfavorable consequences as a result of this guilty plea, just as there would be if you were found guilty at trial? For example, your guilty plea may affect your right to vote, your right to hold office, your right to serve as a jury, as a juror, the right to obtain a passport, the right to receive, possess or transport a firearm, the ability to obtain employment or your membership for the bar in this state or any other states.

Ellis: I understand. 

Young: Do you understand that you are waiving all defenses, including any mental health defenses, by entering this guilty plea? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that if you went to trial, you would have the right to a trial by jury, the right to see, hear, and confront witnesses called to testify against you, the right to testify or remain silent and not incriminate yourself?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Do you understand that by pleading guilty, you are giving up the following rights: The right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself, the right to confront witnesses, the right to, of the assistance of counsel hired by you or appointed by the court, the right to the presumption of innocence, the right to testify on your own behalf and to present other evidence, the right to subpoena witnesses and compel production of evidence, the right to have the charges against you proven guilty beyond, the right, beyond a reasonable doubt and the right to appeal if convicted of these charges.

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Has anyone forced, threatened, promised or coerced you in any way to enter into this guilty plea? 

Ellis: No ma'am. 

Young: Is it your decision to waive these rights and enter a guilty plea because you are in fact guilty? 

Ellis: It is. 

Young: How do you plead to aiding and abetting false statements and writings under accusation 23SC190514

Ellis: Guilty.

Young: And is this your signature along with Mr Hogue's signature on the accusation? 

Ellis: It is. 

Young: And is this guilty plea freely and voluntarily given with full knowledge of the charges against you? 

Ellis: It is 

Young: Do you understand that you may have only limited rights to appeal this guilty plea? 

Ellis: I do. 

Young: And do you understand that you would have four years from today's date to file habeas corpus as, in regards to this guilty plea?

Ellis: Yes. 

Young: Your honor, the state, the accusation is guilty, the plea is entered. According to the state's investigation, Miss Ellis does not have any criminal history, so she would be eligible for first offender which the state has no objection to. 

Judge: All right. Before we get into a colloquy, if we had to ask Mr. Hogue, if you could take back up the waiver form, there's actually a spot on here to circle about the first offender status right there. 

Hogue: Thank you, your honor.

Judge: Thank you, sir. 

Young: If this case had gone to trial, the state would have shown the following:

On December 3rd of 2020, the defendant did appear before a meeting of a Georgia Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in Fulton County, Georgia, with co defendants William Rudolph Lewis Giuliani, Ray Sterling Smith III, and other individuals associated with Donald J. Trump for President Incorporated, also known as the Trump campaign. During the subcommittee meeting, Giuliani and Smith, acting as attorneys for the Trump campaign, made the following false statements. One, that at least 96,600 mail-in ballots were counted in the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in Georgia, despite there being no record of those ballots having been returned to a county election office. Two, that 2,506 felons voted illegally in the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Three, that 66,248 underage people illegally registered to vote before their 17th birthday prior to the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four, that at least 2,423 people voted in the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in Georgia who were not listed as registered to vote. Five, that 1,043 people voted in the November 3rd 2020 presidential election in Georgia who had illegally registered to vote using a post office box. Six, that 10,315 or more dead people voted in the November 3rd 2020 presidential election in Georgia. And seven, that Fulton County election workers at State Farm Arena ordered a poll watcher and members of the media to leave the tabulation area on the night of November 3rd, 2020 and continue to operate after ordering everyone to leave. The false statements were within the jurisdiction of the Georgia Secretary of State and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, who were each conducting investigations into allegations of fraud in the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Once completed, these and others, investigations, are firmly, affirmatively determined that there was no widespread fraud that could have affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. The false statements were made with reckless disregard of the truth and what, and with conspicuous purpose to avoid learning the truth. The defendant attended and abetted Giuliani Smith in making these false statements by assisting with the execution of the December 3rd, 2020 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that was held in Fulton County, Georgia. The false statements were used as part of a plan by the Trump campaign to solicit the Georgia General Assembly to disregard the certified results of the presidential election in this state and instead to unlawfully appoint non elected presidential electors in violation of their oath to the Georgia constitution and to the United States constitution. Similarly, false statements and solicitations were made to state legislators in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and the defendant was present and assisted with the execution of those meetings. And she was in attendance with Giuliani in Arizona and Michigan and Pennsylvania. That would be the factual basis in which the state would have proceeded on your honor. 

Judge: Anything further from the state, Miss Young. 

Young: Um, just that we filed a motion of nolle prosequi under the original indictment. 

Judge: All right, turning to Mr Hogue just a few matters of housekeeping before I let you have the floor if there's anything else you want to add. Would you be requesting automatic ceiling on this first offender disposition? 

Hogue: Yes, that's 1 of my 2 notes here to ask the court if you do that under 42a 62-1B please. 

Judge: All right. And as part of this negotiated resolution, is there anything to note here about a behavioral incentive date?

Young: Yes, your honor. That's going to be 3 years 

Judge: Mr. Hogue is that right? 

Hogue: That's correct your honor

Judge: Okay. Anything else, Mr Hogue that you would like to end? 

Hogue: Yes, if you could make a note that this is not a crime of moral turpitude that would assist us in other venues perhaps. 

Judge: And is that an issue of negotiation between the parties? I know that has differed from resolution to resolution here. So where are we with that?

Young: It is not judge, we're going to ask that the same verbiage that has been put on the other dispositions be put on this disposition as well, which I believe it says, like the defense and the state, um, have agreed that this is not a crime of moral turpitude.

Judge: Okay.

Young: I’ll get that language to this for this. Um, when we leave 

Judge: So, just to clarify, it's not a point of contention between the parties, it’s being jointly recommended, this language? And is that the case for, because I think we needed to enter amended sentences on the prior resolutions reflecting that, is that the same for all 3 prior resolutions in this case?

Young: That is correct, your honor. 

Judge: Okay. All right. Then if that is the joint recommendation, uh, I'll, that'll be part of the global recommendation. Understood, Mr Hogue. 

Hogue: You know, the only other thing is if the court is inclined to accept the negotiated plea, um, Miss Ellis would like to exercise her right of allocution and make a brief statement to the court.

Judge: All right. Uh, so I think I would typically have that as part of the record before we finalized everything. So at this point, um, Miss Ellis, you're not required to do so in any way, uh, but if you would like, uh, to add anything to the record or, or address the court, you're certainly willing to do, uh, able to do so and, and now would be the appropriate time. 

Hogue: Your honor, if I may approach, I have it in writing, what she's about to say. 

Judge: I have one, I have one attached to States Exhibit One. Is that the same? 

Hogue: Oh yeah, you may have it already. 

Judge: Okay. And so would, would there be, would the intention be that this also be going into the record as States Exhibit One, the written form? Okay. All right. Thank you, Mr. Hogue. 

Ellis: Thank you, Your Honor, for the opportunity to address the court. As an attorney who is also a Christian, I take my responsibilities as a lawyer very seriously, and I endeavor to be a person of sound moral and ethical character in all of my dealings. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, I believed that challenging the results on behalf of President Trump should be pursued in a just and legal way. I endeavored to represent my client to the best of my ability. I relied on others, including lawyers with many more years of experience than I, to provide me with true and reliable information, especially since my role involved speaking to the media and to legislators in various states. What I did not do, but should have done, Your Honor, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true. In the frenetic pace of attempting to raise challenges to the election in several states, including Georgia, I failed to do my due diligence. I believe in and I value election integrity. If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post election challenges. I look back on this whole experience with deep remorse for those failures of mine, your honor, I have taken responsibility already before the Colorado bar who censured me, and I now take responsibility before this court and apologize to the people of Georgia. Thank you. 

Judge: And thank you, Miss Ellis for sharing that, all too often, I don't get to hear the perspective of the accused in this, in these cases and so that's appreciated. 

Ellis: Thank you, Your Honor. 

Judge: Is there anything else, Mr Hogue, that you would like to have as part of the record? 

Hogue: No, your honor.

Judge: Miss Ellis, I have a few questions that I have to go over with you. Do you understand the nature of this charge that, as it has been re accused against you? 

Ellis: I do. 

Judge: And you heard the rights that you would wave by going forward with this plea. Do you still wish to waive those rights? 

Ellis: Yes. 

Judge: And are you pleading guilty today because you agree that there is a factual basis as outlined by the state to support this guilty plea?

Ellis: I do. 

Judge: Mr. Hogue, uh, are you satisfied your client is competent and that this plea is, uh, understanding, voluntary, and that there is a sufficient factual basis to support it?

Hogue: I am, your honor.

Judge: Ms. Ellis, do you have a weapons carry license of any kind in this state or any other? 

Ellis: I do not. 

Judge: Well, I find that there is a sufficient factual basis for the charges and I find that this plea of guilty is knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered. Ms. Ellis, you've asked to be sentenced under the First Offender Act, which is a request that I will approve and I'll withhold adjudication, but I do have to notify you that you can't withdraw your plea simply because you don't abide by the terms of the sentence. And the terms of the sentence would be as negotiated and agreed to by both parties. On the sole count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings, the sentence would be five years probation. You're to pay a $5,000 fine to the Georgia Secretary of State's office within 30 days of the entry of the final disposition in this case. You're going to complete a hundred hours of community service. Uh, you are to cooperate with the state and testify truthfully in any further legal proceedings in this case. And you're not to have any contact either personally or through other agents, uh, with the media or any co defendants or witnesses, I believe in this case, as was outlined. We will include the language that is sent to us subsequently from Miss Young, of course, with Mr Hogue, um, attached on that email to make sure that it is the exact language as agreed to by both parties. As requested by counsel as a first offender sentence this would be automatically sealed upon entry and there will be a behavioral incentive date of three years as well. I've been provided a motion to nolle pros the counts on the underlying indictment and 23 SC 188947 and I'm signing that now. Is there anything else from the state that you believe we need to have on the record in this case? 

Young: Judge, if I misspoke, I said it should be a $5000 restitution because the max fine is only $1000.

Judge: Excuse me. That's right. 

Young: I may have misspoken. 

Judge: No, no, that was my mistake. So it is a $5000 restitution. I didn't hear a fine. 

Young: There is no fine judge. 

Judge: Okay. Understood. Anything else I need to clarify or may have, obviously we will, as I mentioned, go off the language that we’re provided subsequent to this hearing. Anything else from the state though?

Young: No, your honor. 

Judge: Okay, Mr Hoag. Anything else we should have on the record? Take your time. 

Hogue: One minute your honor. It's our understanding there won't be any travel restrictions as a part of her probation. I want to just make that clear. There's no misunderstanding or dispute about that. She lives out of state. 

Judge: No, understood. This has been this is sometimes a challenge with out of state residents that we have to have things, uh, transition and be moved to the out of state probation offices and they have to accept it as well. And so whatever we can do to facilitate that process, I would like to do that may mean that if she has a flight today that I don't know if that's going to be possible. But if I could check in with probation, maybe we can get some insight on predictions of what we can do to get this case transferred to Colorado. I believe you said it was.

Hogue: She lives in Florida.

Judge: In Florida. Okay.

Hogue: We do have flights booked this afternoon. 

Judge: Okay, let's well, let's see what we can do. 

State Officer: We basically would need a police report or affidavit as we spoke. Um, I would just need to take information from her, a picture and 100 money order and then we can kind of get the process started,but until Florida states that they can accept her case, she has to stay within Georgia. So if we have everything we need, we can possibly have her report today at two. Mhm. But if we don't have the indictment, the affidavit, she might have to stay. 

Judge: All right. And when you say, um, we'll, we'll, we'll sort through this, Mr. Hogue, when you say she, after she reports at two o'clock today, potentially, uh, how does that affect the process? State Officer: So they're going to try to get it started with Florida. And then if Florida states that we have everything and they can take it, she possibly can go back to Florida today. But if we don't have everything that we need and Florida doesn't state that they can take her. then she would have to stay until they give us the go ahead. 

Judge: Mr. Hogue, what time is that flight? 

Hogue: 1:55 p.m, your honor. I'd like to ask the court to exercise its authority and allow her to travel today. She's been on bond this entire time. Hasn't been that long. But she's abided by all the conditions and ever and wherever. We had thought perhaps we would have this done yesterday, the problem that it is now. 

Judge: Okay. And any thoughts from the state on including some kind of language, allowing some flexibility here on, uh, making sure the probation paperwork is in order.

Wade: Judge, we don't have any objection. Um, we'll stand moot on it and let the court make its decision. Ms. Ellis has complied with everything that the state has asked.

Judge: Okay, I certainly am amenable to that. And I agree that I don't think flight from the jurisdiction is an issue here. So, uh, I, we can follow up and and see if we can find other examples and exactly what and how that needs to look. But we'll work on that after we conclude here. 

Ellis: Thank you.

Judge: All right. Anything else? I already checked in with the state. Uh, last call over to Mr Hogue. 

Hogue: We’re good, thank you, your honor.

Judge: Okay. Thank you, sir. Good luck Miss Ellis. Moving off the record. 

Ellis: Thank you.

Anna Hickey is the associate editor for communications of Lawfare. She holds a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies: communications, legal studies, economics, and government with a minor in international studies from American University.

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