Lawyers from DA Fani Willis' office facing threat of contempt in Fulton County case

 June 13, 2024

In an increasingly contentious legal battle in Georgia, a Fulton County judge has issued a warning to attorneys from District Attorney Fani Willis' office regarding what could turn into a finding of contempt.

As the so-called “Young Slime Life,” or “YSL” gang trial continues apace, Judge Ural Glanville has ordered attorneys from the prosecution team to appear at a contempt hearing next week to determine who was responsible for leaking information to defense counsel about an ex parte meeting in which he participated, as Newsweek reports.

Judge, defense lawyer clash

The kerfuffle arose as a result of a private meeting that reported occurred between the judge, prosecution attorneys, and a witness in the case, but which did not include Brian Steel, the lawyer representing rapper Young Thug in the underlying case.

Once he was made aware of the discussion among some of the parties to the case, Steel raised complaints about the meeting itself as well as the fact that none of the attorneys representing any of the 28 co-defendants in the case were informed about the discussion by the judge.

Commenting on the situation, Steel said of the scenario he believes unfolded, “If that's true what this is is coercion, witness intimidation, ex parte communications that we have a constitutional right to be present for.”

Stalemate unfolds

Glanville subsequently ordered Steel to disclose how he learned about the ex parte meeting and its contents, and when the lawyer declined to provide that information and said he would seek a mistrial in the case, he was held in contempt and sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Since that startling development occurred, the legal community in and around Atlanta has shown it support for Steel.

A significant contingent of defense lawyers appeared Monday at the courthouse to display solidarity with their colleague, and Ashleigh Merchant, representing Georgia's criminal defense attorney association, laid out what she believes Glanville's obligations were with regard to the meeting.

Merchant said Glanville was under a “duty” to let defense counsel know of the ex parte communications and that it was wrong that he had to obtain knowledge of it from whatever source he ultimately did.

As Newsweek noted separately, Glanville is facing calls to recuse himself from the case, particularly from lawyers representing other defendants in the matter.

What comes next?

Pursuant to Glanville's Tuesday order, Fulton County prosecutors, a witness known as “Lil Woody” and the defense attorney for “Lil Woody” must appear before the judge next week.

They will be asked to show cause as to why they “should not be held in contempt for disclosing information from the ex parte conversation to members of the Defense counsel.”

According to Glanville's order, if the Fulton County prosecutors, the witness, or his lawyer who attended the meeting fail to show cause as requested, the sheriff's office will be instructed to jail them.

In a heated proceeding on Wednesday, another defense lawyer on the case sought a delay in the trial until the motion for Glanville's recusal could be heard by another judge, and in response, Glanville made a comment that some observers said was akin to a threat and declined to issue a certificate of immediate review, only adding to the sense of impasse this controversy appears to have reached ahead of Monday's hearing.

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