Fannie Willis’ lawyers get new warning from judge

Prosecutors with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office have received a new warning from the judge overseeing the Young Slime Life trial.

As part of his determination to get to the bottom of the information leak, Judge Ural Glanville ordered a contempt hearing for all parties present during the ex parte meeting on Monday.

In Tuesday’s order, Glanville ordered Fulton County prosecutors, witness Lil Woody (real name Kenneth Copeland) and the witness’ attorney, Kayla Bumpus, to appear at a June 25 hearing and show cause “why they should not be held in contempt for disclosing information from ex parte conversations with members of the defense counsel’s staff.”

The order is the latest development in a confrontation between the judge and defense attorney Bryan Steele.

On Monday, Steele, who is representing Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug in the case, questioned the private meeting, accused prosecutors of witness tampering and said none of the defense attorneys in the case were informed about it.

Young Thug is among 28 co-defendants indicted by Willis on gang-related charges in 2022. He has pleaded innocent.

Fulton County DA Fani Willis will hold a press conference in Atlanta, Georgia on August 14, 2023. Judge Ural Glanville ordered prosecutors from Willis’ office to appear at a contempt hearing on June 25.

CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP

“If this is true, it is coercion, intimidation of witnesses, ex parte communication, which we have a constitutional right to attend,” Steele said.

Following this disclosure, the judge asked Steele to explain how he knew what was said in the judge’s chambers. When Steele refused to reveal his source, Glanville charged the lawyer with contempt and sentenced him to 20 days in jail.

In Tuesday’s order, Glanville said that if neither of the Fulton County prosecutors present at the meeting, Copeland or Bumpus, provide a reason, he would direct the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office to take them into custody as well.

Atlanta’s legal community has rallied behind Steele. Dozens of criminal defense attorneys came to the courthouse Monday afternoon to show their support, and Ashley Merchant, president of the state’s Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, defended Steele before Glanville.

Merchant also gained national attention earlier this year when he exposed Willis’ ties to special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

On Monday, Merchant told Glanville that he had a “duty” to inform defense lawyers that ex parte communications were being made and that the main gist of Steele’s argument was that “they shouldn’t have learned any of this from anywhere.”

According to the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, “Judges shall not initiate, permit or consider ex parte communications, or other communications regarding a pending proceeding or imminent matter outside the presence of the parties or their attorneys, subject to the following exceptions.”

It also states that when important matters are not being considered at the meeting, the judge should “promptly inform all other parties of the substance of the ex parte communication, and give the parties an opportunity to respond.”