Meek Mill’s legal journey took another step Tuesday afternoon, but it will take time to determine how much closer the celebrity rapper may have moved toward his long-desired goal of removing a decade-old conviction from his record.
Lawyers for Mill and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office told a panel of Superior Court judges in a courtroom at Sixth and Walnut Streets that they believe Mill, 32, deserves a new trial for a 2008 drug-and-gun conviction due to credibility issues with his arresting officer. They also asked that all future proceedings be transferred to another judge in Common Pleas Court.
Their statements before President Judge Jack A. Panella, President Judge Emeritus Kate Ford Elliott, and Judge Judith Ference Olson largely reiterated stances that both sides already have taken during the entertainer’s prolonged and public appeals battle.
If granted, the right to a new trial could end Mill’s legal travails, as prosecutors — who reiterated Tuesday that they have questions about the evidence used to secure his conviction — ultimately could decide not to try the case again.
Still, despite the unity between the two sides, the appellate court is not likely to render a decision on the issue for weeks or months, and it did not signal Tuesday how it might rule.
Mill, dressed in a black suit, left the courtroom without commenting, as did his legal team and a host of supporters, including 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin.
The closest thing to a revelation came from Panella, who told attorneys that if the appellate court ruled that Mill should be granted a new trial, procedural guidelines made it all but certain that his case would be transferred to a judge other than Genece E. Brinkley, the Philadelphia jurist who has overseen Mill’s case for a decade.
In that role, Brinkley has become the object of scorn from Mill and his supporters, who have accused her of treating him unfairly and criticized her for jailing him several times for probation violations.
Brinkley has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The last time she sent him behind bars, in November 2017, Mill’s incarceration for probation violations became a rallying cry for celebrities and advocates of criminal justice reform, who viewed his repeated entanglements with the law — and Brinkley — as a prime example of a broken system in need of change.
Mill, a Philadelphia native, gained an important ally in early 2018, when Larry Krasner, formerly a career defense attorney, was sworn in as the city’s top prosecutor.
When Mill pushed for an early release from prison, Krasner’s office did not oppose. In April 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court freed him on bail as he continued his appeals.
Prosecutors later agreed that Mill deserved a new trial due to questions about the credibility of his arresting officer, now-retired Reginald Graham. And this May, they argued for the first time in court documents that Brinkley had exhibited bias against the entertainer.
No one spoke on Brinkley’s behalf at Tuesday’s hearing. Last year she denied Mill’s bid for a new trial, saying in court papers that she did not believe Mill or the DA’s Office had sufficiently proved the evidence used to secure his 2007 arrest was tainted.
Mill’s appellate attorney, Kim M. Watterson, told the judges Tuesday she believed that Brinkley had overreached in that decision, and that the credibility questions surrounding Graham — the only person to testify at Mill’s trial, who has since been accused of lying on the stand — should be left for a new jury to weigh.
CNN commentator Van Jones, who heads the REFORM Alliance, an advocacy group backed by Mill, said outside the courthouse Tuesday: “We are one step closer to justice.”