Meek Mill’s lawyers: FBI investigation into judge means she should leave case

Rapper Meek Mill arrives at the criminal justice center in Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. A Philadelphia judge has sentenced rapper Mill to two to four years in state prison for violating probation in a nearly decade-old gun and drug case.

Rapper Meek Mill (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Lawyers for Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill say the FBI has been looking into Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley’s “conduct in connection” with Mill since last year, according to a court filing Monday.

Mill’s representatives have been aware of the FBI investigation since 2016, according to the filing, but it is not clear if Brinkley knew about it last month when she sentenced Mill, whose legal name is Robert Williams, to up to four years behind bars for violating his probation.

“Upon information and belief, Judge Brinkley is now aware of the investigation,” wrote Mill defense lawyer Brian McMonagle.

Rumors about the FBI investigation into Brinkley’s handling of Mill’s case emerged last month in anonymously sourced reports, but Monday’s filing, confirmed as authentic by Mill’s legal team, is the first public acknowledgement of the inquiry.

“The existence of a federal investigation involving Judge Brinkley’s conduct regarding Mr. Williams, combined with Judge Brinkley’s awareness of that investigation, raises further doubt as to her ability to preside impartially,” McMonagle wrote in the filing. An FBI spokeswoman in Philadelphia would neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

The filing was sent to the Philadelphia Common Pleas court to add to a pending motion filed by Mill’s legal team, which argues Brinkley should step aside from the case and reassign it to a different judge since Brinkley was allegedly unable to preside fairly.

On Friday, Brinkley denied Mill’s request to be released on bail. Mill is currently incarcerated at the state prison in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, after Brinkley sentenced him to two to four years in state prison for violating his probation four times.

Mill “has demonstrated that he continues to pose a great risk to the safety of others in Philadelphia and throughout the country,” Brinkley wrote.

In justifying keeping him locked up, Brinkley added that Mill’s “continued drug use” poses a danger to himself and that he is a flight risk, saying Mill gave various addresses to police when they stopped or questioned him since he’s been on probation.

“Thus, defendant is an increased flight risk due to his providing false residence information to authorities,” Brinkley wrote.

Since his November incarceration, high-profile supporters of Mill have circulated online petitions, rallied in front of the city’s criminal courthouse, purchased billboards and paid for a tour bus to drive around Philadelphia calling for the 30-year-old’s release.

Mill’s attorneys have maintained the prison term was the result of Brinkley carrying out a personal vendetta. The judge overstepped her authority, Mill’s lawyers have said, by trying to give him advice on his career and even asking for a professional request.

In one instance, during a February 2016 hearing, Brinkley brought Mill and his ex-girlfriend Nicki Minaj into her chambers for a conversation. There, according to court papers, Brinkley asked Mill to cover the Boyz II Men song “On Bended Knee,” asking that Mill give Brinkley a shout-out in the track. When Mill brushed that suggestion aside, Brinkley responded, “Suit yourself.”

In a recent interview with WHYY, Philadelphia’s top public defender, Keir Bradford-Grey, said Mill’s punishment was excessive and illustrates larger systemic problems of mass incarceration and the probation-to-prison cycle in the city.

“What we see in the Meek Mill case is someone who can go to jail for a lengthy term for not committing a new crime, but doing things that most would deem mistakes,” Bradford-Grey said. “If we want mass incarceration to end, we have to understand what it looks like, and his case does exemplify that.”

But in her Friday ruling, Brinkley said Mill’s pattern of probation violations stemming from his 2007 arrest on drug and gun charges — including submitting cold water as a urine sample to drug testers — warranted the jail time.

As Brinkley notes, whether a defendant in a violating of probation hearing can be released on bail is completely up to the judge.

“Bail may be set solely at the discretion of the trial court,” Brinkley wrote.

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