Young Thug's lawyer sentenced to prison for contempt of court

ATLANTA – The judge presiding over Young Thug's organized crime case on Monday ordered the Atlanta rapper's lead attorney detained and found in contempt of court after accusing the judge and prosecutors of an improper meeting with a key witness in the case.

Brian Steel, a prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney, was escorted from the courtroom by Fulton County sheriff's deputies after confronting Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville about a private meeting the judge and prosecutors held Monday morning with Kenneth Copeland, an alleged accomplice of Young Thug and a key witness in the gang conspiracy case.

As he approached the podium after an afternoon recess, Steel told the judge that an anonymous source had provided him with details of the meeting between Glanville, prosecutors and Copeland, a sworn witness who was jailed Friday for contempt of court after refusing to testify in the case.

Steel claimed that during Monday's meeting, Copeland reiterated his refusal to testify and that Glanville and prosecutors told Copeland he could be detained 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, then it's coercion, witness intimidation and one-way communication that we have a constitutional right to be present at,” Steel told Glanville.

“How did you get this information? Who told you?” Glanville wanted to know.

When Steel refused to reveal his source – arguing that doing so would violate attorney-client privilege and confidentiality – Glanville ordered his detention for criminal contempt.

The judge later allowed Steel to return to the courtroom while the hearing continued, but said he would throw him in jail if he did not reveal his source. “If you don't tell me, you will be taken into custody at five o'clock today or whenever we are finished,” Glanville warned.

Late Monday, after hearing arguments from Steel's attorneys, Glanville sentenced Steel to 20 days in the Fulton County Jail – a sentence he planned to serve on weekends starting this Friday. Steel asked the judge to allow him to serve that time in the Cobb County Jail, where Young Thug is being held, rather than the Fulton County Jail. Glanville said he would consider that.

Glanville did not comment on the substance of the allegations in his position, but told Steel and his co-counsel Keith Adams that someone had given them false information and argued that whoever passed on the information had violated attorney-client privilege.

“I'm telling you there was nothing at this point, nothing was said, whatsoever, this morning,” Glanville said. The judge denied several motions by defense attorneys for a mistrial and also refused to provide an immediate transcript of the meeting, even though a court reporter was present.

Adriane Love, Fulton County's assistant district attorney and lead prosecutor in the case, also denied any wrongdoing and stated for the record that the meeting between the judge, prosecutors and Copeland took place to discuss the contempt charge against Copeland.

The dramatic developments came as the trial of Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, dragged on at a sluggish pace, marred by jury and witness problems and other day-to-day turmoil that rocked the high-profile prosecution led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D).

The indictment against Young Thug is one of two high-profile organized crime cases being handled by Willis' office. Last summer, the veteran prosecutor brought charges against former President Donald Trump and more than a dozen of his associates, alleging they criminally conspired to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss in Georgia.

The case is now stalled as Trump and others appeal a judge's decision to allow Willis to proceed with the prosecution amid allegations she had an inappropriate romantic relationship with the former lead prosecutor in the case.

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

Prosecutors allege Young Thug was the head of the gang known as YSL, or Young Slime Life, and charged him with organized crime and gang violence. The others were accused of other violent crimes, including murder and attempted armed robbery.

Young Thug's lawyers countered that YSL was merely a record label and attacked prosecutors for introducing Young Thug's song lyrics as evidence at trial, arguing that his rhymes were merely artistic expression and not a literal retelling of criminal acts.

Several of the defendants ultimately pleaded guilty or had their cases dismissed. Young Thug and five alleged accomplices are currently on trial, which is marked by constant delays.

Jury selection began in January 2023, followed by opening arguments on Nov. 27, more than 10 months later. Monday marked the 88th day of testimony — and prosecutors hadn't even gotten through half of their proposed witness list. It's already the longest criminal trial in Georgia history, and some defense attorneys warn the proceedings could drag on well into 2025.

As the drama unfolded on Monday, Glanville, who has been heavily criticized for his handling of the trial, refused to adjourn the proceedings. He accused defense attorneys of trying to “blackmail” the court by refusing to proceed until the matter was resolved between the judge, prosecutor and Copeland. Glanville said he would not comment on the issue until Steel identified his source – which the attorney repeatedly refused to do.

As Glanville took him into custody, Steel calmly stood up and removed his jacket and tie. He then walked to the podium and told the judge that he was violating his client's rights. “You are removing me against his will, my will, and you are taking away his right to an attorney,” Steel told the judge before being led out of the courtroom.

At one point, lead prosecutor Love Glanville urged Steel to return to the courtroom – a sign of how much is at stake in a case that has been closely scrutinized by everyone involved, including the judge and Willis. Willis has been criticized for her decision to pursue sprawling racketeering cases involving multiple defendants.

The developments shocked Atlanta's legal community. A group of criminal defense attorneys gathered outside the courtroom late Monday night to express their solidarity with Steel — including Ashleigh Merchant, an Atlanta attorney who is president of the state's criminal defense association and appeared in court to represent Steel in the contempt of court case.

Steel's wife, Colette Resnik Steel, also an attorney, said she would appeal the fine imposed on her husband, but Glanville argued that Steel had no right to appeal or even to a bail hearing.

“He got the due process he deserves,” Glanville said. He ordered a prison sentence for Steel, but announced that he would lift the contempt order if Steel revealed his source.

Chris Timmons, a former Atlanta prosecutor who has known Steel for years, said he was stunned by what happened Monday. “Brian is one of the most ethical lawyers I know. He's respectful. He's polite, and for him to be found in contempt of court is crazy,” Timmons said. “This thing has gotten completely out of hand.”

Anna Harden

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