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Meek Mill hearing before Judge Genece Brinkley devolves into a laughing matter

The judge who sent the Philadelphia rapper to prison last fall for violating the terms of his 2008 conviction on drug and gun charges said Monday that she needs more time to decide whether he should get a new trial. She gave no date by which she would make a ruling. Lawyers accused her of laughing at an expert witness.

Rapper Meek Mill speaks to supporters minutes after exiting the Philadelphia Criminal Justice in Center City Philadelphia after a hearing before Judge Genece Brinkley on Monday, June 18, 2018.
Rapper Meek Mill speaks to supporters minutes after exiting the Philadelphia Criminal Justice in Center City Philadelphia after a hearing before Judge Genece Brinkley on Monday, June 18, 2018.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The judge who sent Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill to prison last fall for violating the terms of his probation stemming from his 2008 conviction on drug and gun charges said Monday that she needs more time to decide whether he should get a new trial. She gave no date by which she would make a ruling.

That decision capped a two-hour hearing during which Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley repeatedly clashed with the rapper's lawyers, who accused her of acting like a prosecutor and of laughing at their expert witness. It was the first time Mill, 31, and Brinkley, 61, had been face to face since she sentenced him in November to two to four years in state prison.

"You are acting like an extrajudicial officer. You are acting like a prosecutor in this case. … I respectfully ask you to stop it," defense attorney Brian McMonagle thundered, as Brinkley grilled defense witness Bradley Bridge, a senior attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

Brinkley has refused defense requests to recuse herself from the case and to grant the rapper a new trial based on the contention that Reginald Graham, the officer who arrested him in 2007, lied during the trial and later was flagged by the District Attorney's Office as corrupt. In March, the Inquirer and Daily News published a list compiled by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office of current and former police officers, including Graham, whom prosecutors have sought to keep off the witness stand over allegations of misconduct.

Brinkley told Bridge that an officer's being on the "do-not-call" list may be sufficient for a lawyer to ask for a new trial, but not for her to grant one. She refused to hand the case to another judge Monday, reminding defense lawyers that the state Supreme Court shot down that request earlier this month.

When McMonagle accused the judge of laughing at Bridge, she denied laughing and responded, "I have to make sure that the record is complete" for future review. Brinkley maintained that she may have smiled but had not been rude to Bridge, who testified that new trials have been granted in more than 1,500 similar cases in which the credibility of the arresting officer is in question.

"Do you believe I was laughing at you?" Brinkley asked Bridge.

"I wouldn't say laughing," he replied. "It was more like a smirk."

Peter Goldberger, one of six lawyers representing the rapper, told the judge that she in fact had laughed at Bridge, and that it was wrong.

In an interview after the hearing, Goldberger repeated his assertion.

"The judge cross-examined Bradley Bridge, who is the senior public defender, who has devoted himself for the last 23 years to the cause of people wrongly convicted," Goldberger said. "The judge cross-examined him like he was a liar and laughed in his face. And when we objected to the judge laughing at him, she denied she had laughed."

Bridge called Brinkley's behavior "an odd spectacle" after he departed the packed courtroom.

Although Brinkley was correct in trying to create an appropriate record in the event the case is appealed, Bridge said in an interview, she went over the line "by disregarding and degrading what I had to say."

Reporters were ordered to hand over their cellphones to deputy sheriffs, which is not standard practice in Philadelphia courtrooms.

Much of the hearing was spent talking about a man who was not there — Graham, who had arrested the 19-year-old Mill, then known by his real name of Robert Rihmeek Williams, for allegedly selling drugs and pointing a gun at officers on a Southwest Philadelphia street.

Mill did a short prison stint, made parole, and found stardom as a rap artist. Graham's career collapsed after he was accused of lying to the FBI in 2013 and to the city Police Department in 2016 about stealing drug money. He resigned in 2017 before the department could fire him.

Assistant District Attorney Liam Riley told Brinkley that his office believes that Mill should get a new trial and does not believe that Graham is a credible witness. But Brinkley would not budge on granting that trial.

"At no point in time will we give up," McMonagle told the rapper's supporters after the hearing from a lectern erected in front of the courthouse on Filbert Street. "At no point in time, no matter what door somebody upstairs tries to slam in our face. We will finish this, and we're going to finish this with this injustice being overthrown. This fight is a long way from over, and when it is, we will be standing."

About 300 supporters attended the rally, and Mill thanked them from the stage and joked that he wished someone would take their picture so he could give them free tickets to one of his concerts. "I came into this situation today not thinking anything good was going to happen in that courtroom. It was what I thought it was," said the rapper, who did not speak during the hearing. "I just thank y'all for coming out to support me and the other men and brothers caught up in the system the same way."

Earlier, before entering the courthouse for the hearing, Mill had told rally participants that he left a lot of innocent men behind jail walls when he was granted bail in April. "I want you all to know I will stand up for your family members for the rest of my music career," the rapper promised. Mill said that he'd spent Father's Day with his son, but that many other incarcerated men were unable to do similarly.

On April 16, the District Attorney's Office announced that due to questions about Graham's credibility, Mill's conviction should be vacated and he should get a new trial. Eight days later, the state Supreme Court responded by granting the rapper extraordinary relief allowing him to be released from prison on bail.