Lawyers for imprisoned Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mill have launched what one lawyer called a "flurry of legal filings" to try to get the 30-year-old hip-hop star released from his 2- to 4-year prison term for violating the terms of his 10-year-old probation.
The first filing Tuesday — a day after hundreds of supporters met outside the city Criminal Justice Center demanding Mill's release — asked Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley to disqualify herself from further involvement his case and allow a new judge to reconsider Mill's prison sentence.
The 14-page motion, buttressed by 143 pages of court transcripts, maintains that Brinkley, 61, a judge since 1993, had "assumed a non-judicial, essentially prosecutorial role in the revocation process," and ignored the recommendations of the probation officer and prosecutor, neither of whom sought imprisonment.
The motion contends that Brinkley has gone beyond "the proper bounds of the judicial role, even as supervisor of a probationary sentence. Judge Brinkley has repeatedly offered inappropriate personal and professional advice to the defendant, who had become a successful professional entertainer during the pendency of this case. On some occasions, Judge Brinkley has done so off the record, or on the record while attempting inappropriately to keep that record secret from the defendant and his counsel."
"Last week's hearing was a farce," said defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle. "It was a miscarriage of justice that lacked even the semblance of fairness. Today, we have asked this Judge to step aside so that a fair minded jurist can right this terrible wrong."
McMonagle said he would file a motion seeking bail for Mill, who was taken into custody following the Nov. 6 hearing before Brinkley for violating his probation from a 2008 drug and gun case. McMonagle said Brinkley has 30 days to respond to the motions filed Tuesday. If she does not respond, Mill's lawyers can take the case to Superior Court.
For Mill, the problem with a Superior Court appeal is that, unless he is allowed bail pending appeal, he could serve his minimum sentence before a decision.
Nor does the Superior Court have a reputation for disturbing lower court sentences in such cases. An article in Sunday's Inquirer reviewed seven Superior Court appeals of probation violation sentences imposed by Brinkley over the last four years. All were affirmed.
Mill, born Robert Williams, is now in the state prison at Camp Hill near Harrisburg undergoing evaluation before his permanent prison assignment.
"He's holding up OK," said McMonagle, adding that Mill is in "protective custody" – in a single cell for 23 hours a day with one hour out for exercise.
A motion to reconsider the sentence is the first step in any criminal appeal to the state Superior Court, the intermediate appeals court between the trial courts and the state Supreme Court.
Unless she modifies or vacates Mill's sentence, Brinkley will be required to write an opinion for the appeals court explaining her reasons for sending him to prison.
At the Nov. 6 hearing during which Brinkley sentenced Mill, the veteran judge recounted almost 10 years of court proceedings in which he had violated his probation, and she had sentenced him to short periods in jail and then had extended his probation.
Mill's most recent "technical violations" were testing positive for the prescription narcotic Percocet earlier this year and two misdemeanor arrests, for an altercation at the St. Louis airport and a traffic violation in Manhattan involving a motorbike.
Brinkley also reminded Mill of the night she actually tried to verify that he was feeding the homeless, part of the community service she ordered. She went to a Center City soup kitchen run by the Broad Street Ministry – and found him instead sorting clothes.
"It was only when you realized that I came there to check on you that you decided to serve meals," Brinkley told the rapper.
Mill's lawyers contend the judge's surreptitious visit was also questionable: "Judge Brinkley thereby made herself a fact witness on the question of whether Mr. Williams was in compliance on that occasion, as well as to any statements he may have made. Judge Brinkley then relied on her own version of this incident … among the reasons for imposing a state prison sentence."
Mill's lawyers contend that Brinkley also demonstrated a personal bias involving Mill in a private in-chambers meeting during a Feb. 5, 2016, probation-violation hearing.
At that hearing, Mill's then-attorney Frank DeSimone told Brinkley that Mill wanted to discuss his experiences performing community service but "would feel more comfortable relaying some of his thoughts and experiences" to the judge in private.
The transcript of that private meeting was sealed at the request of Mill and DeSimone.
But Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Mill based in New York City – who was not in the private meeting – has said Brinkley asked Mill last year to record a version of a Boyz II Men ballad, "On Bended Knee," and to mention the judge in it.
Tacopina said Mill laughed off the request and told Brinkley: "I can't do that. It's not my music. I don't sing that stuff. And I don't do, like, you know, shout-outs to people in my songs."
Brinkley replied, "'OK, suit yourself,'" according to Tacopina.
Tacopina also alleged that Brinkley asked Mill to drop his current management, Jay-Z's Roc Nation, and to return to Philadelphia-based Charles "Charlie Mack" Alston, who worked with Mill early in his career.
Mack was among about 50 persons to offer support to Mill during an Aug. 18, 2014, probation violation hearing before Brinkley.
In a related development Tuesday, authorities dismissed a New York Post internet report that the FBI was investigating Brinkley's role in recommending Mill return to Mack's management. An FBI spokeswoman in Philadelphia said that, per Justice Department policies, her office could not confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation. However, a federal law enforcement official in the city said that he was not aware of any active probe into the matter.
McMonagle on Tuesday declined to comment on the report of an FBI probe.
Mill's appeal also renews his request to gain access — but not to unseal — the transcript of that private Feb. 5, 2016, meeting with Brinkley to establish a factual basis for the recusal motion. Mill's lawyers made the same request last year but, according to court records, Brinkley denied the request unless the transcript was made available to the public. Mill's lawyers tried appealing to Superior Court but backed off the request, which the appeals court ultimately rejected.