At just 34 years old and only six months into his tenure, Judge Scott McAfee has found himself presiding over the trial of a former US president.
The Georgia election interference prosecution of Donald Trump and 18 alleged co-conspirators is by far the most legally – and logistically – complex out of four blockbuster cases against the Republican. To add to the pressure, it will be televised.
But at the opening hearing of the Georgia proceedings on 6 September, Superior Court Judge McAfee certainly was not playing to the camera.
Hearing motions from lawyers for two of Mr Trump’s co-defendants, he occasionally furrowed his brow or folded his arms, but did not seem to express any opinion beyond his eventual ruling for the day. To the uninformed observer, it might have looked like yet another ordinary day for him in court.
Judge McAfee has built an impressive CV over his relatively brief career. He has served as a local and federal prosecutor. He has worked with both Fani Willis, the Democratic prosecutor trying Mr Trump, as well as for the state’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp. Those who know the jurist have described him as a tough but level-headed figure.
His demeanour, coupled with his conservative legal bona-fides, could make it far more difficult for Mr Trump and his allies to accuse him of bias, as they have done with other judges and prosecutors overseeing cases against the former president. And it makes him one to watch as the case unfolds.
“Although Scott McAfee has only been a judge for about six months, his prior experience indicates that he is highly competent and well-qualified for the challenge of presiding over the massive indictment that places Donald Trump at the head of an alleged criminal enterprise to overthrow the 2020 election results in Georgia,” Clark Cunningham, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law, told the BBC.
Judge McAfee’s CV checks many of the usual boxes for a rising legal professional, with a couple of interesting quirks thrown in.
He studied both politics and music at Emory University in Atlanta, and played cello for the school’s symphony orchestra. He is also volunteer scuba diver at the Georgia Aquarium, the institution confirmed, where his work might include “a few different things like cleaning exhibits, safety dives, etc”.
His legal career began at the University of Georgia Law School. There, he joined the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group that serves as an incubator and pipeline for lawyers and judges on the right, and the Law Republicans.
Judge McAfee interned for Georgia Supreme Court Justices David Nahmias and Keith Blackwell during his time at law school, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
“What really stands out is his temperament – he’s not excitable, he’s even-keeled,” Mr Blackwell, now a senior counsel at the Alston & Bird law firm, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
After graduating in 2013, Judge McAfee served as both a local prosecutor and in private practice, before eventually taking a job as a Fulton County prosecutor in 2015. There, he worked alongside Ms Willis, who was a prosecutor at the time, the New York Times reported.
Ms Willis was elected Fulton County district attorney in 2020, and began her investigation into Mr Trump’s attempts to swing the Georgia election results in his favour shortly after taking office.
According to the Georgia governor’s office, while working in Fulton County, he prosecuted “hundreds of felony cases ranging from armed robbery to murder”.
A year into his tenure in Fulton County, Judge McAfee was named trial court lawyer of the year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The award was “evidence of his competence as a trial prosecutor”, Mr Cunningham told the BBC.
In 2018, Judge McAfee became a federal prosecutor, working as an assistant US attorney in Atlanta. He eventually caught the eye of Governor Kemp, who appointed him to the Georgia office of the inspector general in 2021.
“His experience as a tough prosecutor equips him to search out fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption, and bring those to justice who break the law,” Mr Kemp said in a statement at the time.
Just two years later, Judge McAfee ascended once again when Mr Kemp appointed him to the bench in February 2023.
And six months later, the court system randomly assigned him the case of the decade.
It is unclear if Judge McAfee will stay on Mr Trump’s case long term, as the former president and some of his co-defendants have hinted that they may try to get their case moved to federal court.
That legal manoeuvre so far appears unsuccessful; a separate judge ruled on Friday against Mark Meadows, one of the co-defendants, who filed to have his case moved out of Georgia state court.
For now, America’s eyes will be on Judge McAfee.