Chaos in Fani Willis’s Prosecution of Young Thug as His Lawyer Gets Jail Sentence, Calls Trial ‘Communist Russia’

The sprawling racketeering trial of the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist and his five co-defendants has already dragged on for 18 months, making it the longest trial on record in the state of Georgia.

Courtroom Feed
Jeffery Williams, also known as 'Young Thug,' sports a wolf sweater at his racketeering trial, alongside his attorney, Brian Steel (R). Courtroom Feed

At Georgia’s Fulton County, chaos is mounting and more hurdles are emerging to District Attorney Fani Willis’s sweeping racketeering case against Young Thug, as the Grammy-award winning rapper’s prominent defense lawyer, Brian Steel, has launched an appeal of a jail sentence against him — for insulting the judge — that will likely take the Georgia supreme court months to weigh.

That sentence came on Monday, after attorneys for Young Thug and his five co-defendants accused the presiding judge, Ural Glanville, of violating Georgia’s court rules. They say he met privately that morning with prosecutors, a key witness, Kenneth Copeland, and his then-lawyer in an attempt to force Mr. Copeland’s testimony. Mr. Steel has compared the trial to “Communist Russia.”

Judge Ural Glanville sentenced Brian Steel, the attorney for Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, to several weekends in jail. X / Twitter

That’s the latest drama in a trial that has already dragged on for 18 months — Georgia’s longest on record. It involves Fulton County’s Ms. Willis, who is also prosecuting President Trump in a case related to his alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election. In October, a Georgia appeals court will hear whether she should be removed from that case after she hired as special prosecutor a man with whom she admitted having a previous romantic relationship, Nathan Wade.

Ms. Willis is using the same racketeering law to prosecute Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, she is utilizing to go after Mr. Trump. The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, designed to prosecute gangs and other organized crime operations, allows for a defendant to be found guilty by association. Georgia’s RICO Act makes it a crime to participate in an “enterprise” through a “pattern of racketeering activity” or to conspire to do so. 

Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, speaks to his attorney, Brian Steel, during his trial. Courtroom feed

In addition to the Young Thug and Trump prosecutions, Ms. Willis was involved, before and after her election to district attorney, in an eight-month racketeering trial, in 2015, of Atlanta school teachers who were accused of cheating on standardized tests in 2009. That ongoing legal drama has stretched out for so long that some of the teachers involved have died. 

In the case against Mr. Williams, Ms. Willis indicted him and 27 others in 2022 on the central charge that the artist’s YSL record label, short for “Young Stoner Life,” is actually a front organization for the YSL street gang, Young Slime Life. The case alleges that Mr. Williams, one of America’s most successful hip-hop artists, is the gang’s “King Slime.” He’s been behind bars for more than two years and is currently incarcerated at the Cobb County Jail.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, at Atlanta.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, at Atlanta. Photo by Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images

On Monday, Mr. Steel refused to tell Judge Glanville how he heard about the private meeting, citing confidentiality rules. That prompted the judge to hold him in contempt of court and order the maximum possible sentence — 20 days at the notorious Fulton County Jail at downtown Atlanta — a move that shocked Atlanta’s legal community. 

A “Strike Force” of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers rushed to Judge Glanville’s courtroom Monday afternoon to defend the lawyer from the jail sentence. The state supreme court subsequently decided to put the sentence on hold. Some legal observers are speculating that Judge Glanville’s actions will prompt an investigation of him by the state’s judicial misconduct watchdog.

Jeffery Williams, known as Young Thug, was in jail for more than 500 days prior to his trial, which could last more than a year. He remains incarcerated, presently at the Cobb County Jail. Courtroom feed via YouTube

“Brian was in a no-win situation where he had to choose between complying with the judge or violating his duty of loyalty and confidentiality to his client,” one of Mr. Steel’s attorneys in the case, Alex Susor, said Thursday. “Dozens of attorneys have all pledged to help Brian.”

Mr. Steel criticized the way prosecutors scrutinized Mr. Copeland on Thursday, which he said could amount to witness intimidation. “This is crazy. This is like Communist Russia,” Mr. Steel said. “Every time Mr. Copeland comes in the courtroom or out of court he’s escorted by a DA’s office investigator.”

Mr. Steel asked the judge to declare a mistrial, yet the request was refused. The judge also refused another defense attorney’s request that he recuse himself from the case and rejected demands that he hand over the meeting transcript.


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