What do former District Attorney Jackie Johnson and rapper Young Thug have in common?

Not much, except they’re both represented by Atlanta attorney Brian Steel. But as the Fulton County prosecution of Steel’s client Thug has had the longest jury selection in Georgia history with another six to nine months estimated for trial, the case for his other client, the indicted ex-Brunswick District Attorney, continues to languish.

Nineteen months have gone by since former DA Johnson was charged with interfering in the death investigation of Brunswick jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, on behalf of her former employee. Johnson has been out on bond. She has pleaded not guilty. 

The Georgia Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, said its prosecutors are “fully prepared to present our case in Court,” a spokesperson said. 

Ahmaud Arbery Mural
Wanda Cooper-Jones, left and Marcus Arbery, right standing in front of their son’s mural after street dedication in his honor. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current GA

Semi-retired Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John Turner is presiding over the case, after Glynn’s judges recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. In an email, Judge Turner declined to go into specifics about the scheduling challenges, but he said the assertion it’s on him alone to schedule the next phase of the case “is correct on its face but not complete.”

“There are circumstances which make any meaningful scheduling difficult at this time,” Turner wrote. “It is my desire that this be handled as soon as it can be.”

Seeking clarity about those delays, The Current has left two messages for Steel and sent him two emails in addition to leaving two messages for Johnson’s other attorney, John Ossick, Jr. of Kingsland. 

The likely culprit of the significant delays is Steel’s more high-profile client, Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffrey Williams. The Fulton County DA’s office accused Williams and 13 others of operating as a criminal street gang under the guise of Williams’ label, YSL or Young Stoner Life. DA Fani Willis’ office is charging them under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). It means Williams is being tried along multiple other people at the same time

The complicated case was supposed to start trial in January, but jury selection is now entering its fourth month this week. The judge in the case has reportedly said the trial will last between six to nine months. Hundreds of potential jurors have been cycled through, as many say the hardship of not working for more than half a year would be too great. 

Meanwhile, Glynn County continues to wait.

Jackie Johnson faces one charge of violating her oath of office as district attorney and one charge for obstructing law enforcement. A grand jury said she allegedly handpicked her own DA to serve as her replacement to determine charges in the Arbery case, without disclosing she had done that, in order to show favor to her former employee McMichael. The second charge accused her of intervening in the Glynn County Police Department’s initial probe of Arbery’s death by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest,” according to the indictment.

Brian Steel, Atlanta lawyer for both Jackie Johnson and rapper Young Thug Credit: Law firm website

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Honorable former District Attorney Johnson ever knowingly and/or willfully hindered any Law Enforcement Officer(s) from arresting anyone tied to the murder of Mr. Arbery as alleged by the Grand Jury,” Steel wrote in a March 2022 motion seeking to dismiss the case.

In response to the motion, the Attorney General’s office revealed evidence alleging Johnson collaborated with the Waycross DA George Barnhill to write off Arbery’s killing by McMichael, his son Travis, and neighbor William Bryan as a justified killing instead of a homicide. 

The court filing showed McMichael and Johnson had talked on the phone 16 times from the date of Arbery’s killing to McMichael’s arrest. 

The motion to dismiss and the AG’s office’s rebuttal is supposed to go before Judge Turner to rule on whether to dismiss the indictment. That still hasn’t happened. 

Originally, the hearing was set to occur on Dec. 29, 2022, according to a scheduling order. The hearing was to be combined with Johnson’s arraignment, which had not occurred more than a year after her charges were filed. The arraignment is a court process, which happens within weeks or months of indictment, where a defendant is read their charges and they plead guilty or not guilty. 

Jackie Johnson
Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson (screenshot from an archived version of campaign site votejackiejohnson.com) Credit: Screenshot of campaign website

Then, the hearing was delayed by request from Johnson’s lawyers, according to the AG’s office. The agency said Johnson then waived arraignment and her lawyer pleaded not guilty on her behalf. 

The hearing has not been rescheduled to make up for that delay. A Glynn County Superior Court clerk said Wednesday there have been no new filings since December.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Johnson as DA in 2010 after then-DA Stephen Kelley vacated the role to become a Superior Court judge. 

She went on to win re-election twice, before losing in 2020. Voters defected from Johnson to her rival largely due to the allegations of her handling of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. 

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked as a senior writer for the...