Young Thug Trial Judge Won’t Step Aside Over ‘Illegal’ Meeting With Prosecutors, Witness

Young Thug Trial Judge Won’t Step Aside Over ‘Illegal’ Meeting With Prosecutors, Witness

The Atlanta judge overseeing Young Thug’s gang trial is refusing to recuse himself from the case and declare a mistrial, denying a motion filed by the rapper’s lawyers over revelations of an allegedly “illegal” secret meeting with prosecutors and a star witness.

At a hearing in Fulton County Court on Tuesday, Judge Ural Glanville rejected arguments from Thug’s attorney Brian Steel that the judge had “forfeited its role as an impartial judge and has become a member of the prosecution team.” The ruling came just a day after Steel filed his motion, in which he argued that the secret meeting with prosecutors had been an “unforgivable” error.

“The court has become a member of the prosecution team in an effort to thwart Mr. Williams’ Constitutional right to a fair trial,” Steel wrote in the motion, referring to Thug by his real name Jeffery Williams. “This court must be recused, the court and the prosecution have violated Mr. Williams’ rights and the Indictment must be dismissed after a mistrial is declared.”

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But in Tuesday’s ruling from the bench, Glanville said that Steel’s allegations were based merely on “bare assertions and legal conclusions which aren’t sufficient for the court to grant your motion.” The judge also refused to pause the trial or allow an immediate appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Thug and dozens of others were indicted in May 2022 over allegations that his “YSL” group was not really a record label called “Young Stoner Life” but rather a violent Atlanta gang called “Young Slime Life.” Prosecutors claim the group committed murders, carjackings, armed robberies, drug dealing and other crimes over the course of a decade. After kicking off in January 2023, the trial is already the longest in Georgia state history and is expected to run until early next year.

In an extraordinary courtroom episode last week, Steel revealed that he had learned of a secret “ex parte” meeting that morning between Glanville, prosecutors and a witness named Kenneth Copeland. Steel argued that such a meeting, without defense counsel present, was clear grounds for a mistrial. He claimed Glanville had helped prosecutors coerce the uncooperative Copeland into testifying with threats of extended jail time.

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Rather than address Steel’s complaints, Glanville instead repeatedly demanded that he divulge who had informed him about a private meeting in his chambers, suggesting the leak was illegal: “If you don’t tell me how you got this information, you and I are going to have problems.” After Steel refused to do so, the judge eventually held him in contempt and sentenced him to 20 days in jail. The Georgia Supreme Court later halted the sentence while it reviews Glanville’s decision.

In Monday’s motion demanding Glanville’s recusal, Steel lambasted the judge over the secret meeting, repeatedly referring to it as a “star chamber” – a reference to an ancient English judicial practice characterized by secrecy and a lack of due process. He said the incident illustrated that Glanville and the prosecutors are “teaming up to gain an unlawful advantage over Mr. Williams.”

“Mr. Williams’ trial is constitutionally fractured, unfair and lacks all constitutional, statutory and ethical safeguards and protections of due process of law,” Steel wrote. “No intellectually honest person could believe that coercing witness Copeland to testify in a ‘star chamber’ setting meets Constitutional muster.”

In the filings, Steel laid out in detail what he believes occurred during the ex parte meeting.

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After Copeland had reneged on a plan to testify in exchange for immunity, Steel claimed prosecutors and Glanville had warned the witness that if he did not testify, he could be held in custody until the entire YSL case is over – a process that’s expected to take many years. Steel claims that Glanville gave Copeland a written copy on the rules of perjury, which Steel argued was “no subtle gesture and one that helped the prosecution team to obtain their mission for Mr. Copeland to change his mind and testify.”

“This court was a participant and was present during these admonitions/threats to Mr. Copeland,” Steel writes. “This is witness intimidation, coercion and the court has become a member of the prosecution team in assisting the prosecution to induce a material witness to testify.”

In addition to the substance of the meeting, Steel took particular aim at the secrecy of it – saying that Glanville and the prosecutors not only held the meeting without notice, but “never intended” to reveal it to defense attorneys until Steel himself learned of it through other means. He also argued that Glanville had “obstructed justice” by refusing to release a transcript, and even suggests that court officers “may have been instructed to turn off their body cameras.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, after Glanville denied the motion to recuse, Steel pleaded in vain with him to reconsider stepping aside. The attorney warned that when he cross-examined Copeland on the witness stand, he would need to ask him about the ex parte meeting with the judge.

“I’m going to ask him how much pressure, if any, the court put on him, and you’re going to be the one instructing the jury,” Steel said to Glanville. “And I just can’t imagine how that’s fair to Mr. Williams.”