YSL case: Lawyer pens court-ordered essay. It was that or go to jail

Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Faced with writing an essay or going to jail, a defense attorney in the Young Slime Life gang case has submitted his 17-page research paper to the judge.

Eric Johnson, who represents defendant Christian Eppinger in the sweeping Fulton County racketeering case, was threatened with 20 days in custody for leaving the courtroom without permission.

Chief Judge Ural Glanville told the attorney he could avoid the slammer by penning a lengthy research paper on “The importance of professionalism in the legal field.”

Johnson confirmed Monday morning that he finished his essay and submitted it to the judge by Friday’s deadline.

“The 28th at noon or you do 20 days,” Glanville reminded the attorney in court two weeks ago. “The paper is to be published quality in APA format (with) at least 10 primary and 10 secondary sources.”

Johnson said he stepped out of court to run to the restroom and get something from his car. He was gone 17 minutes, hence the 17-page assignment from the judge.

Writing the essay took about 20 hours, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But with the title page and works cited list, the paper ended up being closer to 21 pages.

He had offered to satisfy his contempt by donating to a nonprofit or buying his colleagues lunch, punishment the judge has dished out to other attorneys who violated his rules and found themselves on the receiving end of a lecture.

But Glanville told Johnson that wasn’t an option and that he expected the paper to be submitted on time. Johnson said he would have rather shelled out $1,000 to satisfy his contempt.

“I didn’t like writing it, I didn’t like the reason I had to write it, but I didn’t want to go to jail either,” he said.

Fulton County Chief Judge Ural Glanville instructed a defense attorney in the YSL case to write a 17-page research paper after he left the courtroom without permission.  File photo. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

It wasn’t the first time Glanville has assigned homework since jury selection began in the high-profile case began. In January, a potential juror who traveled to the Dominican Republic instead of returning to court was told to write a 30-page essay on the importance of jury service.

“Years ago, people who looked like us couldn’t serve on juries,” Glanville told Juror No. 64; both the judge and the juror are Black. “It was prohibited.”

Glanville signed off on the woman’s essay three weeks later. She was released from jury service and avoided spending time behind bars.

Johnson is one of four appointed defense attorneys being paid $15,000 for taking the case. The Georgia Public Defender Council initially contracted the attorneys to handle the case for $7,500 but those wages were doubled when it became apparent court proceedings would last more than a year.

Some of Johnson’s colleagues have called the pay “egregiously low” for the amount of work required, and one attorney noted he could make more money working at a Chick-fil-A. They’ve also said it’s nearly impossible to take on new clients or even work on other cases given their hectic schedules.

The GPDC has said it is working to secure additional funding for the conflict defenders appointed to the lengthy YSL trial.

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