June 14, 2024

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Young Thug's lawyer is being held in contempt of court and ordered to jail in the Georgia case

ATLANTA — The judge overseeing the criminal racketeering case against Young Thug ordered the Atlanta rapper's lead attorney detained Monday and held in contempt of court after he accused the judge and prosecutors of an inappropriate meeting with a key witness in the case.

Fulton County sheriff's deputies escorted Brian Steele, a prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney, from the courtroom after he confronted Fulton County Superior Court Judge Oral Glanville about a private meeting the judge and prosecutors had Monday morning with Kenneth Copeland, Young's alleged accomplice. Watch a serial killer and star in the gang conspiracy case.

Approaching the stand after an afternoon break, Steele told the judge that an unnamed source had provided him with details of the meeting between Glanville, prosecutors and Copeland, a sworn witness who was jailed Friday for contempt after he refused to testify in the case.

Steele claimed that Copeland reiterated his refusal to testify during Monday's meeting and that Glanville and prosecutors told Copeland that he could be jailed until the end of the trial if he refused to cooperate. He said the conversation prompted Copeland to change his mind and take the witness stand on Monday.

“If that's true, this is coercion, witness intimidation, and one-sided communications that we have a constitutional right to be in,” Steele told Glanville.

“How did you get this information? Who told you?” “Glanville demanded.

When Steele refused to reveal his source — claiming it violated attorney-client protections and the “work product” privilege — Glanville ordered him held in criminal contempt and detained.

The judge later allowed Steele to return to the courtroom as proceedings continued, but said he would jail him if he did not reveal his source. “You'll be detained at five o'clock today or when we're done if you don't tell me,” Glanville warned.

Late Monday, after hearing arguments from Steele's attorneys, Glanville sentenced Steele to 20 days in the Fulton County Jail — a sentence he was ordered to serve on weekends starting Friday. Steele asked the judge to let him serve that time in the Cobb County Jail, where Young Thug is being held, and not in the Fulton County Jail, which Glanville said he would consider.

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Glanville did not comment from the bench on the substance of the allegations — though he told Steele and his co-counsel, Keith Adams, that someone gave them false information and argued that whoever leaked the information violated attorney-client privilege.

“I'm telling you at this time there's nothing that has been offered or said or anything this morning,” Glanville said. The judge rejected several requests from defense lawyers to mistrial, and also refused to provide an immediate transcript of the meeting, despite the presence of a court reporter.

Adrian Love, an assistant Fulton County prosecutor and the lead prosecutor in the case, also denied any wrongdoing, explaining for the record that the meeting between the judge, prosecutors and Copeland was held to address the contempt suit against Copeland.

These dramatic developments came as the racketeering trial against Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffrey Lamar Williams, was proceeding at an extremely slow pace, marred by problems with the jury and witnesses and other daily turmoil that engulfed the high-profile Fulton County-led trial. Lawyer Fanny T. Willis (D).

Young Thug's trial is one of two high-profile criminal racketeering cases led by Willis' office. Last summer, the veteran prosecutor brought charges against former President Donald Trump and more than a dozen aides, alleging they criminally conspired to try to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss in Georgia.

That case is now at a dead end, with Trump and others appealing a judge's decision to allow Willis to continue to prosecute the case amid complaints that she had an inappropriate romantic relationship with the former lead prosecutor in the case.

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Young Thug and 27 other associates were indicted in May 2022 as part of a sweeping grand jury indictment that alleged the rapper and his associates were members of a violent criminal street gang in Atlanta.

Prosecutors claimed that Young Thug was the head of the gang, known as YSL, or Young Slime Life, and charged him with criminal racketeering and gang charges while others were charged with other violent crimes, including murder and attempted armed robbery.

Young Thug's lawyers responded by claiming that YSL is merely a record label and attacked prosecutors for presenting Young Thug's lyrics as evidence at trial, arguing that his songs were merely artistic expression and not a literal account of criminal acts.

Many of the defendants in the case eventually pleaded guilty or had their cases dismissed. Currently, Young Thug and five of his alleged accomplices are on trial, which has been marked by persistent delays.

Jury selection began in January 2023, followed by opening statements on November 27, more than 10 months later. Monday marked the 88th day of testimony — with prosecutors less than halfway through their proposed list of witnesses. It is already the longest criminal trial in Georgia history, with some defense attorneys warning that the proceedings could last until 2025.

As the drama continued Monday, Glanville, who has faced intense criticism for his handling of the trial, refused to pause the proceedings, accusing the defense attorney of trying to “blackmail the court” by refusing to move forward until the issue of what happened was resolved among the court. The judge, prosecutors, and Copeland were disbanded. Glanville said he would not address the case until Steele identified his source, which the attorney repeatedly refused to do.

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When Glanville ordered him into custody, Steele calmly stood up and took off his jacket and tie. He then approached the stand and told the judge that he was violating his client's rights. “You are removing me against my will, my will, and you are depriving him of his right to an attorney,” Steele told the judge before he was escorted from the courtroom.

At one point, Love, the lead prosecutor, pressured Glanville to let Steele return to the courtroom — a sign of the high stakes in a case that has drawn intense scrutiny for everyone involved, including the judge and Willis, for whom he has been criticized. A decision to pursue the sprawling, multi-accused extortion cases.

The developments shocked Atlanta's legal community. A group of criminal defense attorneys gathered outside the courthouse late Monday in solidarity with Steele — including Ashley Merchant, an Atlanta-area attorney who heads the state Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and appeared in court to represent Steele in the contempt case.

Steele's wife, Colette Resnick Steele, also an attorney, filed a notice of intent to appeal the contempt order against her husband — although Glanville argued that Steele had no right to an appeal or even a bond hearing.

“He's got the due process he's going to get,” Glanville said. He ordered Steele jailed but said he would lift the contempt order if Steele revealed his source.

Chris Timmons, a former Atlanta district attorney who has known Steele for years, said he was surprised by what happened Monday. “Brian is one of the most ethical lawyers I know. He's respectful. He's polite, and it's crazy to look down on him,” Timmons said. “This thing is off the rails.”