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ATLANTA — The judge overseeing the criminal racketeering case against Young Thug ordered the Atlanta rapper’s lead attorney to be taken into custody Monday and held in contempt after he accused 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 he confronted Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville about a private meeting the judge and prosecutors held Monday morning with Kenneth Copeland, an alleged associate of Young Thug and star witness in the gang conspiracy case.

Approaching the lectern after an afternoon break, Steel told the judge that an unnamed source had provided him 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.

Steel alleged that Copeland reaffirmed his refusal to testify during the Monday meeting and that Glanville and prosecutors told Copeland 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 Monday.

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

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

When Steel refused to divulge his source — claiming it violated attorney-client protections and “work product” privilege — Glanville ordered him held in criminal contempt and taken into custody.

The judge later allowed Steel to return to the courtroom as proceedings continued but said he would jail him if he did not divulge his source. “You will go into custody at five o’clock today or whenever we finish if you don’t tell me,” Glanville warned.

Late Monday, after hearing arguments from Steel’s attorneys, Glanville sentenced Steel to 20 days in the Fulton County Jail — a sentence that he ordered to be served on weekends beginning this Friday. Steel asked the judge to allow him to serve that time at the Cobb County Jail, where Young Thug is being held, and not at the Fulton County Jail, which Glanville said he would consider.

Glanville did not comment from the bench on the substance of the claims — though he told Steel and his co-counsel, Keith Adams, that someone had given them the wrong information and argued that whoever leaked the information had violated attorney-client privilege.

“I’m telling you this point in time there is nothing that was given, said, whatever, this morning,” Glanville said. The judge denied multiple requests from defense attorneys for a mistrial and also declined to produce an instant transcript of the meeting, even though a court reporter was present.

Adriane Love, an assistant Fulton County district attorney and the lead prosecutor on the case, also denied any wrongdoing, stating for the record that the meeting between the judge, prosecutors and Copeland had been held to address the contempt claim against Copeland.

The dramatic developments came as the racketeering trial against Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, have dragged at a glacial pace, marred by jury and witness problems and other daily turmoil that has engulfed the high-profile prosecution led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D).

The Young Thug prosecution is one of two high-profile criminal racketeering cases being led by Willis’s 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 try to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia.

That case is now at a standstill, as Trump and others appeal a judge’s decision to allow Willis to continue prosecuting the case amid complaints she had an improper romantic relationship with the former lead prosecutor in the case.

Young Thug and 27 other associates were charged 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 have alleged Young Thug was head of the gang, known as YSL, or Young Slime Life, and have 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 attorneys have countered by claiming YSL is merely a record label and have attacked prosecutors for introducing Young Thug’s lyrics as evidence at trial, arguing his rhymes were merely artistic expression not literal recounting of criminal acts.

Several of those indicted in the case ultimately entered guilty pleas or have had their cases severed. Currently, Young Thug and five alleged associates are on trial, which has been marked by constant delays.

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

As the drama played out Monday, Glanville, who has faced intense criticism for his handling of the trial, refused to pause proceedings, accusing defense lawyers of trying to “extort the court” by declining to move forward until the issue of what happened between the judge, prosecutors and Copeland was resolved. Glanville said he would not address the issue until Steel identified his source — which the lawyer repeatedly refused to do.

When Glanville ordered him into custody, Steel calmly stood up and removed his jacket and tie. He then approached 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’re taking away his right to counsel,” Steel told the judge before being escorted out of the courtroom.

At one point, Love, the lead prosecutor, pressed Glanville to allow Steel back into the courtroom — a sign of the high stakes in a case that has drawn intense scrutiny for everyone involved, including the judge and Willis, who has been criticized for her decision to pursue sprawling, multi-defendant racketeering cases.

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

Steel’s wife, Colette Resnik Steel, who is also an attorney, filed notice of an intent to appeal the order of contempt against her husband — though Glanville argued Steel has no right to an appeal or even a bond hearing.

“He’s gotten the due process he’s going to get,” Glanville said. He ordered Steel to jail but said he would lift the contempt order if Steel would divulge his source.

Chris Timmons, a former Atlanta-area prosecutor who has known Steel for years, said he was stunned by what happened Monday. “Brian is one of the most ethical attorneys I know. He is deferential. He is polite, and for him to be held in contempt is crazy,” Timmons said. “This thing is off the rails.”



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