Young Thug’s lawyer held in contempt, ordered to spend 10 weekends in jail

Shocked by judge’s decision, Atlanta defense attorneys come to lawyer’s aid
Defense attorney Brian Steel reacts during the beginning of the second week in the YSL trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Defense attorney Brian Steel reacts during the beginning of the second week in the YSL trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Miguel Martinez /

The judge presiding over Young Thug’s lengthy racketeering trial held the musician’s attorney in contempt on Monday after being confronted about a conversation reportedly held between himself, prosecutors and one of the state’s star witnesses.

Brian Steel was escorted out of the courtroom after refusing to tell Judge Ural Glanville how he learned of the meeting, which he said occurred in the judge’s chambers before court began. Glanville sentenced him to spend the next 10 weekends at the Fulton County Jail, totaling 20 days.

Steel was ordered to report to the troubled Rice Street facility by 7 p.m. Friday. He asked Glanville if he could spend the weekends with his client at the Cobb County Jail instead so they could work on their case. Glanville said he was OK with that and offered to talk to the sheriff.

“You got some information you shouldn’t have gotten,” Glanville told the rapper’s attorney earlier in the day before directing a courtroom deputy to take Steel into custody.

Judge Ural Glanville is shown in his courtroom during the hearing of the key witness Kenneth Copeland in the Atlanta rapper Young Thug trial at the Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Atlanta. 
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

“You’re not supposed to have communication with a witness who’s been sworn,” Steel told the judge before requesting a mistrial. He was later allowed back into the courtroom.

The witness, Kenneth Copeland, spent the weekend behind bars after refusing to testify on Friday despite an immunity deal that is contingent on his testimony. Copeland apparently had a change of heart on Monday and was brought to the witness stand wearing a blue, jail-issued jumpsuit.

He was later released from custody on the condition that he return to the witness stand Tuesday morning.

The reluctant witness dodged most of the prosecution’s questions ahead of Monday’s lunch break, during which time Steel said he learned of the morning meeting.

“How about the witness, how about Mr. Copeland, who supposedly announced that he’s not testifying and he’ll sit for two years and, supposedly this honorable court, or let me rephrase that, this court, said I can hold you until the end of this trial,” Steel asked.

Kenneth Copeland reacts as he answers State prosecutors’ questions during a Fulton County Superior Court hearing on Monday, June 10, 2024. Copeland is a crucial witness in the state’s case against rapper Young Thug, charged with the RICO act.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

He said he heard that prosecutor Simone Hylton told the witness that he could actually be held until all 26 defendants have their cases disposed of, regardless of how long that might take.

“If that’s true what this is is coercion, witness intimidation, ex parte communications that we have a constitutional right to be present for,” an outraged Steel told Glanville.

“I still want to know, how did you come upon this information,” Glanville asked. “Who told you?”

“What I want to know is why wasn’t I there,” Steel told the judge.

After ordering Steel to be removed, Glanville said he planned to continue with proceedings.

“I’m not halting nothing,” he said.

At that point, Young Thug’s other attorney, Keith Adams, said he did not wish to continue without his co-counsel present.

Glanville told him that he “does not have that luxury” and instructed Adams to remain in the courtroom and defend his client.

“You don’t get to extort the court,” Glanville said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

He called the leaked information about the meeting “such a violation of the sacrosanctness of the judge’s chambers.”

Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, observes his lawyer, Brian Steel, working with the microphone during the hearing of the key witness Kenneth Copeland at the Fulton County Superior Courton on Monday, June 10, 2024.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Before leaving, Steel told the judge that his client did not wish to continue without him present.

“You are removing me against his will, my will, and you’re taking away his right to counsel,” Steel said on his way out.

Lead prosecutor Adriane Love asked that Steel be allowed to return to the courtroom for the remainder of the day’s proceedings and he was eventually let back in.

Meanwhile, Attorney Max Schardt, who represents defendant Shannon Stillwell, asked the judge to release the transcript from the private meeting so he and the other defense attorneys could see what was discussed.

He said everyone involved in the trial should have been included in that conversation, not just the state, the judge and the witness.

“You got the information in a way that was not lawful to begin with,” Glanville told him. “If and when the case gets reviewed, an appellate court will make these decisions.”

Schardt snapped back.

“All I’m asking for is some sunlight,” he said. “We’d like the transcript … We are trying this case right now to win this case. We are not playing for an appeal. We would like a fair shot at this case right now.”

Waiting for the appeals process to play out could take decades, Schardt contended.

Glanville said there was “nothing that was improper” about the ex parte conversation in his chambers.

“The court’s more concerned about the disclosure,” he told the attorneys.

Despite allowing Steel back into the courtroom, Glanville warned the attorney he wasn’t in the clear.

“I’m still going to hold you in contempt,” Glanville told Steel, giving him a deadline of about 5 p.m. “You can purge that contempt by just telling me who it is that told you this information. That’s all I need to know.”

Marietta attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who is president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, represented Steel in trying to obtain his release from custody after the jury was excused.

Over the past decade, she has been a member of the legal group’s “strike force” team, which represents lawyers found in contempt of court.

 Defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant answers questions during a Senate Special Committee on Investigation hearing at the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

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Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

”We’re not OK with this,” Merchant said. “We’re not going to let this happen to our brother, who was simply doing his job ... This is not how advocates should be treated. It’s hard enough being a criminal defense attorney, and we shouldn’t be threatened with jail.”

Merchant arrived at the Fulton courthouse along with about two dozen other Atlanta attorneys willing to advocate for Steel.

She asked that Glanville recuse himself from Steel’s contempt case, calling him a witness to whatever ex parte communication occurred in his chambers.

“This needs to be heard by a different judge,” she said in court, pulling up case law that differentiated between civil and criminal contempt cases.

“If it is criminal, Mr. Steel is entitled to all the same due process rights that (his client) and every other defendant in this courtroom is entitled to.” Merchant said. “One of those to have a fair and neutral judge decide his case. One of those is to have a judge who is not also a witness in the proceeding deciding whether or not he’s in contempt.”

Several other Atlanta attorneys took to social media to voice their disbelief over what happened to Steel, who is widely respected in legal circles and considered a staunch advocate for his clients.

Steel’s wife, Colette Resnik Steel, an attorney herself, wrote in a notice late Monday that she is appealing her husband’s criminal contempt finding to the Georgia Court of Appeals. She also asked that he be released on bond while the issue is decided.

Steel is not the first attorney in the case to have been taken into custody. In April 2023, defense attorney Anastasios Manettas was arrested after going through a secondary security checkpoint with some of his prescription medication. Manettas was released on a $5,000 bond and his client, Miles Farley, was severed from the case.

Prosecutors allege Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams is the leader of “Young Slime Life,” which they contend is a criminal street gang responsible for robberies, retaliatory shootings and at least three homicides.

Jury selection began on Jan. 4, 2023 and took 10 months. Since opening statements were delivered in late November, the trial has been marked by repeated delays, juror problems and time off. Monday was the 88th day of trial, but so far, fewer than 80 of the prosecution’s 200-plus witnesses have been called to testify.

The trial is expected to continue into next year.