The trial involving Young Thug and associates stands as one of the longest and most highly publicized criminal cases in both Atlanta and the music industry at large. The proceedings, which began on Nov. 27, faced an early setback in just its second week when the faces of some jurors were leaked online, leading to mistrial appeals from the defense. However, this incident is just one of several incidents that have unfolded since the proceedings surrounding the case began in January.
“So much craziness has gone on. I don't know if you've seen that show Jury Duty on Amazon Prime,” Surinder Chadha Jiminez, a defense attorney representing Cordarius Dorsey tells Complex during a phone call shortly after jury selection began. “It’s just like that. It's ridiculous. A bunch of that shit has happened in our trial.”
In April, Amazon Prime's mockumentary series Jury Duty released its pilot episode, providing insight into the jury selection process. Despite the intentional comedic tone of the show, certain interactions and characters within it draw parallels with the YSL trial, as noted by Jiminez.
To fully make sense of the current moment, Complex spoke to three defense attorneys who have served on the trial to unravel the complex and daunting process of jury selection, the obstacles and financial burdens encountered by defense attorneys, and other viral moments that have made this a historic case.
"So much craziness has gone on."
Jury selection for the YSL trial — initially involving Young Thug and 28 defendants charged in a 56-count Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act indictment (RICO) — was underway from Jan. 4 to Nov. 1, in a 10-month long process that was not devoid of chaotic scenes and viral moments. Throughout the process, the Fulton County courtroom endured disorderly disruptions, confiscations of contraband, arrests, and more. Now, it’s possible the process will commence anew.
The early days of the trial were defined by colorful moments involving the attorneys representing the defendants in the case. On April 17, public defense attorney Justin Hill, who is representing defendant Damone Blalock, went viral for saying, “It’s cap,” in the courtroom. On April 20, criminal defense attorney Anastasios Manettas, representing defendant Miley Farley, was arrested for allegedly carrying prescription medication into the courtroom. The following month, on May 3, defense attorney Angela D’Williams (repping Rodalius Ryan) joked about opening an OnlyFans due to the low wages she is receiving while serving on the trial. And on May 9, public defender Surinder Chadha Jimenez was held in contempt for being a few minutes late to court. To make up for his tardiness, he bought the rest of the lawyers on the case Magic City chicken wings for lunch.
The courtroom also heard explicit testimony from formerly prospective jurors. According to Jimenez, one female prospective juror claimed she couldn’t be fair if she were selected to sit for the YSL trial because, “the last time she was in a jury pool in Fulton County, which was years ago, three Black men were behind her, and they told her they wanted some white pussy. So she’s traumatized,” Jimenez explains.
It’s not extraordinary for high-profile cases such as this to have bizarre moments or garner public interest. Just look at historical cases like the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995 or the John C. Depp, II v. Amber Laura Heard of 2022. Attorney Eric Johnson, who reps defendant Christian Eppinger n the YSL trial, tells Complex that the series of events, coupled with the charges and the level of celebrity, has created “a perfect storm.” “I can't say that I've expected some of the things that have happened, but the coverage of it is definitely expected because of the nature of the defendant in this specific case,” Johnson explains. “You have a big rap artist and this big rap artist is being prosecuted in a very prominent city. And this is a very complicated trial. It started out with 28 defendants and over 65 charges. So it's a very convoluted case.”
Although the attention could have been predicted, the early coverage of the case, particularly surrounding the attorneys, has created some confusion and widespread interest in what is going on behind the courtroom doors. Johnson does not believe there has been any false reporting in the media coverage that has come out about the trial thus far, “because the things that have happened have actually happened,” Johnson affirms. Even so, several of the attorneys who spoke to Complex agree there are quite a few misconceptions about the case.
The first misconception pertains to the large number of defendants named in the case. At the start of the case, there were more than two dozen defendants named in the indictment. Over the past few months, though, the number has slowly dwindled. In May, Anastasios Manettas and his client Miles Farley were severed from the case after Manettas’ arrest for carrying prescription drugs into the courtroom. Hill and defendant Blalock were severed after Blalock fell ill. In June, Christian Eppinger, who is represented by Eric Johnson, was severed from the case after the state accused Johnson of allowing his client to use his computer for inappropriate communication. Several weeks after speaking to Jiminez for a second phone call, his client Cordarius Dorsey was also severed from the trial in September due to a separate 2019 conviction. Now, there are six defendants (Jefferey “Young Thug” Williams, Marquavius Huey, Deamonte “Yak Gotti” Kendrick, Quamarvious Nichols, Rodalius Ryan and Shannon Stillwell).
When asked about the decision to include a large number of defendants in the initial indictment, Jiminez says it was not a choice made by the individual defense teams. “Mr. Williams [Young Thug] and his attorney Mr. Brian Steel have been asking to be tried on his own from the beginning, but the reason [it didn’t happen] is because the state is very adamant that that would be a waste of resources,” Jimenez explains. “The state claims that if they were to separate them, it's going to be a six-month trial for every little group, which is bullshit. They don't need to prove all this evidence against everybody.”
In grouping so many defendants together, a point that is easily misconstrued is that everyone—the defendants and their attorneys—is working together. D’Williams says that is far from the truth. “We're not all working together. Everybody's an individual, and everybody has their own individual case. We're not working together, because they weren't working together,” D’Williams says when asked about the biggest misconception about the case. “I know people were under the impression that I was Jeffrey Williams' [Young Thug’s] cousin, because we have similar last names. I'm like, no, that's not how that works. And people are confused on why some of these people have public defenders, and why isn't he [Williams] covering everybody? And it's because we don't work together!”
As D’Williams stated, each of the defendants in the case were given separate attorneys, but it is important to note the major difference between the types of attorneys. Jimenez, Johnson, and D’Williams are considered conflict attorneys, which Law Insider describes as “private attorneys assigned by the court” to represent an “indigent defendant” who cannot be represented by a public defender because of various reasons such as caseload or conflict of interest. In this case, they were hired by the Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC) because it was difficult to obtain attorneys for the indigent defendants, they confirm. Jimenez says that “indigent defendants” are the clients who “cannot afford a Brian Steel.” As a result, the attorney revealed, “There were emails going up pretty much begging, ‘Please, can anybody help?’”Johnson also notes that the desperate request for attorneys on this particular case stems from “two reasons: the time expenditure and the finances.”
"This is a very complicated trial. It started out with 28 defendants and over 65 charges. So it's a very convoluted case."
The topics of hours and wages for attorneys on the case has been another subtle, yet ongoing conversation. With a high-profile case involving an unprecedented number of defendants, the number of hours attorneys have committed to their clients is understandably high. Since Jan. 4, Johnson says he has “been in court almost every single business day.”
Jimenez breaks his work commitment down by the hours, stating, “I'm stuck in court every day. Some days we’re stuck there 10 to 12 hours. And that's just being in the court doing not much productive work because a lot of it is us waiting for security to let us in.” Jimenez recalls a day in May 2023 when he was supposed to report to court at 9 a.m. ET. In the past, Jimenez has gotten reprimanded for showing up late to court. “I do suffer a little bit of time blindness. So I am working very hard to not get in trouble again,” he admits. This time, he arrived at the courtroom 15 minutes early, but the state did not arrive until 9:35 a.m. “They ultimately opened the door at 9:52 a.m., and the judge took the bench at 11:03 a.m.,” continues Jimenez. “The D.A.'s office has multiple satellite offices in the building. They can just go sit down somewhere and have their computers and their databases. I don't have anywhere to plug in my computer. I have to sit on the floor like I'm in a college dorm. There's no privacy. I can't even have conversations with my other clients, so I'm stuck there being completely non-productive.”
And the work doesn’t stop after the judge dismisses the court. Attorneys spend a bulk of their free time researching, preparing briefs, and reviewing documents. “You have to go over the facts and the specifics of your client's case, and then you also have to try to maintain your practice, handling business for other cases and clients that you couldn't handle because you were in court all day,” Johnson explains.
D’Williams reveals that her legal business and cases outside of the YSL trial have suffered because of the time commitment this one requires. “It kind of made everything come to a screeching halt, because I am a solo practitioner and I just started my law firm a year ago,” D’Williams says of the strain the trial has put on her legal practice. “So I don't have the connections that a lot more senior attorneys have, or people that started the law firm years ago have.”
Attorneys on the YSL case can work up to 13 hours or more for their clients, but the hard work is not reflected in the wages they receive. All three attorneys have previously raised awareness about the low wages they’re receiving in the media. Most notably, D’Williams said she toyed with the idea of starting an OnlyFans to compensate for the low wages. The viral quote might have raised some eyebrows, but D’Williams does not regret making the statement.
“If I wouldn't have said that, I don't think anybody would have cared that we weren't really getting paid,” she tells Complex. “And then the way that GPDC tried to shut me down instead of advocating for me... I was baffled. We want people to trust us as public defenders, but then the head of the public defender's office is like, ‘Stop doing that.’’ If I was a regular person reading the story and finding out how GPDC takes care of their attorneys, I don't think I would feel comfortable with an attorney, because now I'm like, ‘Oh, they’re not paying you, so are you focusing on my case?’”
"We're not all working together. Everybody's an individual, and everybody has their own individual case. We're not working together, because they weren't working together."
Wages are pre-set by the Georgia Public Defender Council and usually are categorized by level of offense. For instance, a RICO case, rape, or a murder would be considered a serious felony and have a larger fee. When the GPDC were first looking for attorneys to take on the indigent defendants, D’Williams says, “Initially, they were paying people $1,500 to take the whole case. … Nobody's taking any felony for $1,500,” she scoffs. D’Williams notes their wages were bumped up to $3,500 and once again to $7,500. Once attorneys received the discovery—“3 TB, which is the equivalent of 589 movies”—in the trial, everyone realized just how taxing it would be to take on the case. So the GPDC increased the pay to $15,000, but that number still doesn’t cover the hours of work attorneys are committing to the case. “If you break it down for a year, let's say 52 weeks,” Jimenez begins. “There's 40 hours a week for 52 weeks; that's 2,040 hours. $15,000 divided by 2,040 hours—and that's not counting weekends and holidays and all that. That's going to be about $7.23 an hour. That's less than minimum wage.”
After some attorneys including Jimenez, D’Williams, and Johnson made some noise in the press surrounding low pay, the GPDC held a meeting and voted to pay attorneys $55,000 per case for lengthy trials. According to D’Williams and Jimenez, they will be paid a monthly fee of $5,000 for every month they are on the trial. The monthly fee will cap at $55,000, regardless of how long the case might last.
The question of how long this trial will carry on has become more prominent in the last few months. In July, the Atlanta Tribune reported that the YSL trial will be the longest case in Fulton County history. Jimenez says it's “soon to be the longest in Georgia history” as well. Johnson says jury selection usually wraps up after four days, but “the issue as far as the timing of the case boils down to the number of defendants and the number of charges, and finding a jury to accommodate all of those people.” Johnson continues, “Whenever you have situations where you have 28 defendants, the jury selection process is going to take a little slower. And of course, because each defendant's rights have to be represented, that means more attorneys speaking. That means arguments take longer. The bigger the case, the longer it's going to take.”
"They're doing RICO cases all across America, and the prison sentences are between one and 20 years. So when you put that many people together and they look guilty, it’s mass incarceration."
Ultimately, the 12 jurors, and the additional 12 alternates were seated after 10 months on Nov. 1. Jiminez noted the importance of securing the initial 12 jurors and their alternates because “whatever jury we end up getting, somebody's going to get arrested, somebody's going to die, or somebody's loved one's going to die,” adds Jimenez. On Dec. 4, one juror was dismissed after falling ill and replaced with an alternate.
Now the trial is fully underway, the attorneys on the case are certain many things will come to light. Jimenez says he is confident the trial will dispel the notion that Young Thug and the other defendants acted as an organized crime unit. “[People] hear RICO and they immediately assume that it's true. A lot of the comments are like, ‘Public defenders? How the fuck is there a public defender in a RICO case? Why do these people not have money for real lawyers?’ Because there's no organization,” Jimenez insists. He clarifies that he doesn’t mean “this trial is full of innocent people who never hurt a fly, but they’re certainly not organized crime.”
He continues, “Yeah, [Young Thug is] in touch with his community, but that's not an organization. There were some witnesses that testified that a certain gas station is run by YSL. Do you really think Young Thug needs a little five dime bag pushed at a gas station? He makes more than that gas station makes in a year just from streams. They think he controls Atlanta as if we live in Gotham City and they finally got the Penguin. If they got the Penguin locked up, then how the hell is crime not over then? Obviously he doesn't control anything. He is an inspiration to a lot of people, and he's loved by some people that do crimes. But the crimes they commit have nothing to do with the music they listen to. And if you think that you'll hear a song and go out and commit crimes, that's just dumb.”
Although the evidence will show their clients’ innocence, both Jimenez and D’Williams suggest the trial’s historic length along with the optics of a RICO case may force a different outcome. “I think [the jury] are going to be so tired and fed up of being there that they're going to just want to make up their mind real quick,” Jimenez says. “The reality is that the verdict that people end up going with when they just want to close out the case is a guilty verdict.”
The YSL trial has unfolded as a complex legal spectacle, marked by a meticulous jury selection process and numerous challenges faced by the defense. From the unexpected twists to the compelling courtroom dynamics, the trial has captivated attention both within and beyond the music industry. As the proceedings continue, the lasting impact of this trial on legal precedents and the reputation of those involved remains to be seen. But for those who are tuned into Law & Crime Network’s live screening or reading along online right now, the YSL trial will likely be a significant chapter in the intersection of music and the judicial system.
With that in mind, D’Williams prompts spectators to consider this: “people need to look into how much it costs to prosecute the cases, because people are paying taxes to prosecute these cases. They need to look at how much the police department got paid, how much the public defender's office was paying, and how much the prosecutors were getting paid to do this case. They're doing RICO cases all across America, and the prison sentences are between one and 20 years. So when you put that many people together and they look guilty, it’s mass incarceration.”