Appeal by Young Thug’s lawyer could take months as trial continues

Review of contempt ruling may reveal judge’s private conversation
Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, and his lawyer, Brian Steel, in the Fulton County Superior Court on Monday, June 10, 2024.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, and his lawyer, Brian Steel, in the Fulton County Superior Court on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Miguel Martinez / AJC)

It’s likely to be months before the Georgia Supreme Court decides whether Young Thug’s attorney was properly held in contempt and must spend 20 days behind bars.

In the meantime, Brian Steel continues to represent the musician in the ongoing gang and racketeering trial that, in its 18th month, is Georgia’s longest trial on record.

The need to move fast in Steel’s appeal is significantly reduced by the state Supreme Court’s decision this week to put a hold on his sentence, said Alex Susor, one of Steel’s attorneys in the case. Appeals in the court typically take months.

“Brian was in a no-win situation where he had to choose between complying with the judge or violating his duty of loyalty and confidentiality to his client,” Susor said Thursday. “Dozens of attorneys have all pledged to help Brian.”

Susor said he hopes the appeal will reveal what happened Monday morning in Judge Ural Glanville’s chambers that led to widespread concern about the judge’s handling of the case.

Attorneys for Young Thug and his five co-defendants, who waited in Glanville’s courtroom Monday morning for the judge to appear, now believe he was meeting privately with prosecutors, key state witness Kenneth Copeland and Copeland’s then-lawyer in an attempt to force Copeland’s testimony. Excluding defense counsel from that kind of communication is clearly prohibited by Georgia’s court rules and could scuttle the trial, many attorneys say.

“We need to clear up whether this in fact was improper,” Susor said. “And if it wasn’t, then we can move on with the trial without this being a cloud over it.”

Glanville’s decision to jail Steel because he voiced concern that Copeland was improperly coerced to testify during the private meeting stunned Atlanta’s legal community. When Steel refused to disclose how he heard about the meeting, citing confidentiality rules, Glanville held him in contempt of court and handed down the maximum possible sentence, ordering Steel to spend 10 consecutive weekends in jail.

Some attorneys believe Glanville’s actions will prompt an investigation by the state’s judicial misconduct watchdog.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville presides over the YSL trial on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

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“We really think that this is grossly unfair,” Susor said. “The circumstances in this trial, I’ve never seen before. This is pretty exceptional, which I believe is why there has been such an outcry nationally about this whole incident.”

Susor said Steel was simply protecting his client’s interests, as he is obligated to do, and “is essentially being punished for trying to live up to the best spirit of professionalism.”

About two dozen members of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers rushed to Glanville’s courtroom Monday afternoon to support Steel. The association’s “Strike Force,” of which Susor is vice chair, jumps into action when a lawyer is threatened with jail time. Steel’s wife, Colette Resnik Steel, is herself a criminal defense lawyer and helping to lead the appeal.

“I believe that Brian was acting in good faith to expose what he believed was an improper communication between the DA’s office and the judge and a sworn witness in the trial,” Susor said. “He was trying to bring that to the light of the day to ensure that his client received a fair trial and that there was no improper coercion that was placed upon the witness.”

Copeland, who was granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, refused to cooperate Friday and was held in custody over the weekend. He agreed to testify after Monday’s closed-door meeting.

Copeland’s testimony continued Thursday. Steel criticized prosecutors’ handling of Copeland, suggesting witness intimidation. He asked Glanville to declare a mistrial.

“This is crazy. This is like Communist Russia,” Steel said. “Every time Mr. Copeland comes in the courtroom or out of court he’s escorted by a DA’s office investigator.”

Kenneth Copeland answers prosecutors’ questions in the Fulton County Superior Court on Monday, June 10, 2024.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Glanville denied the mistrial request. He has also refused another defense attorney’s request that he recuse from the case and rejected pleas to hand over the meeting transcript.

Susor said it’s unclear whether Glanville barred those involved in the meeting from discussing it or how much of the discussion was recorded by a court reporter. The judge has ordered attorney Kayla Bumpus, who represented Copeland at the meeting, to appear in court on June 25 to explain why she shouldn’t be held in contempt for potentially disclosing information about the meeting.

“We believe that all of this is error,” Susor said. “It doesn’t appear that there was ever a gag order signed. I don’t know if there was an oral pronouncement from the judge. If there was, I’m hoping it’s on the transcript.”