Steven H. Sadow, former President Donald J. Trump's lead lawyer in his Georgia criminal trial, was praised by Atlanta rapper TI – one of Mr. Sadow's former clients – as “probably the best criminal defense attorney of his time.” “a man with “a slight touch of genius.”
If so, much of that genius has remained in limbo since Mr. Trump was indicted in Georgia over the summer. Mr. Sadow, a heavyweight in the Atlanta legal world who specializes in representing what he calls “high-profile individuals,” has so far kept a low profile in the state election interference case, relying largely on briefings from other attorneys, representing Mr Trump's colleagues -defendants.
Mr. Sadow has rarely spoken publicly about the case. And at a number of similar court hearings, he has shown up alone in his trademark cowboy boots and watched the proceedings from the courtroom gallery.
His minimalist approach stands in stark contrast to that of other, more voluble lawyers Mr. Trump has hired across the country to resolve his legal problems. It also added some dramatic tension to the Georgia case. He's like a soloist in a band who hasn't really played yet.
The calm phase could soon be coming to an end. This week, Mr. Sadow filed a motion arguing that Georgia courts should weigh before any trial whether the 13 criminal charges against Mr. Trump should be dismissed because his claims of voter fraud after his loss in the 2020 election were protected by the First be change.
And on Friday, Mr. Sadow is expected to make his first court appearance in the case, arguing that Mr. Trump should be granted access to evidence collected by federal prosecutors in his separate election interference case in Washington.
The hearing could provide the first clues about Mr. Sadow's long-term strategy and how he might implement lessons learned from decades of defending a diverse list of clients, including rappers and the occasional tabloid semi-celebrity.
“This is an extremely creative guy who will construct a defense based on every tool at his disposal,” said Arthur W. Leach, a former assistant U.S. attorney who ran against Mr. Sadow.
Like Mr. Trump's lawyers in his other pending criminal cases, Mr. Sadow is trying not only to secure his client's exoneration but also to delay it. Prosecutors have suggested the Georgia trial begin in August, but Mr. Trump would likely prefer to delay it beyond next fall's presidential election, in which he is running.
The indictment accuses the former president and 14 allies of conspiring to overturn Mr. Trump's 2020 defeat in Georgia; Four other defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Mr. Sadow, 69, declined an interview request. He had previously announced that he was not a Trump supporter. On the day of the former president's voluntary surrender in August, he took over as Mr. Trump's lead lawyer, replacing Drew Findling, known as the “billion-dollar lawyer” for his work defending prominent hip-hop artists.
Friends of Mr. Sadow say he most likely took the case as much for the challenge as for the money. According to public records, Mr. Findling's company received at least $816,000 for about a year of work.
Legal experts believe Mr. Sadow's cautious approach is a calculated strategy.
He's likely been watching the moves of other defendants' lawyers to see what approaches work best with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is relatively new to the bench. Mr. Sadow occasionally joked to reporters that there was no reason to write his own briefs when other lawyers who happened to be great writers had already done good work.
Mr. Sadow may be trying not to put anything on paper that might inadvertently help Jack Smith, the prosecutor in the separate federal election interference case against Mr. Trump, who is scheduled to go on trial in Washington in March.
“I don’t think anyone on Trump’s legal team in Georgia wants to do anything that could even remotely cause an uproar in Washington,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University.
In courtrooms in Atlanta and beyond, Mr. Sadow has demonstrated a gift for aggressive cross-examination and quick thinking.
Christian Fletcher, a client of Mr. Sadow who was acquitted in a major health care fraud case in March, said Mr. Sadow's real strength was his sensitivity to people and the way jurors think. “It’s like it’s downloading who you are as a person,” he said, “and what makes you tick.”
In an online interview with his client TI, the rapper, Mr Sadow said he had done his own legal research because “I don't think anyone else can do it better than me.” He also said he was into the profession appointed to curb the excesses of government power.
“People need to be cared for and protected,” he told the artist. “They need to be protected from the government” — because, he said, the government doesn’t care about most people.
In addition to T.I., who was happy with the plea deal and the one-year prison sentence Mr. Sadow got him when he faced federal gun possession charges, he has represented rappers Gunna and Rick Ross, who occasionally mention Mr. Sadow by name. Sadow in his poetry.
“Indictment on the way, Sadow put on the case,” he rapped in his 2019 song “Turnpike Ike.”
In 2000, Mr. Sadow secured an acquittal for Joseph Sweeting, who was charged in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta. The case received national attention because charges were also filed against Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Lewis; Mr. Lewis reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Mr. Sadow also represented Steven E. Kaplan, the owner of a notorious Atlanta strip club called the Gold Club, who was targeted by prosecutors alleging he had ties to the Mafia and facilitated prostitution. Mr. Sadow called it a “very good deal” when Mr. Kaplan, who had served decades in prison, pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in 2001 and received a 16-month sentence and a $5 million fine.
What impact these successes will have on Mr. Trump's case is difficult to say. Mr. Sadow faces the difficult task of convincing a jury in Fulton County, where President Biden won 73 percent of the vote in 2020. A number of legal experts following the case expect that Mr. Sadow will soon file a motion arguing that Mr. Trump should be spared from the Georgia allegations because he was the president. Mr. Trump's lawyers in the Washington case have filed a similar motion, which many experts say is unlikely to succeed.
Mr. Sadow grew up in Ohio and moved to Atlanta in the 1970s to attend Emory Law School. Even then, said Martin Salzman, a lawyer and former classmate, he was excellent at coming up with alternative theories to a case.
“I said, 'You just think like a criminal – that's why you like criminal law,'” Mr. Salzman recalled with a laugh. “He really puts forward theories that most other people just don't have to raise reasonable doubts.”