On Tuesday afternoon, the hip-hop community breathed a huge sigh of relief when news of Meek Mill’s prison release was officially announced. Since November, the embattled lyricist was incarcerated for violating his probation stemming from a 2007 gun and drug charge.
After being granted bail from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Meek Mill was escorted out of prison on a helicopter. Accompanying Meek was Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, comedian Kevin Hart and lawyer Brian McMonagle. From there, Meek was taken to the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia 76ers hosted Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round Playoffs against the Miami Heat.
Prior to the game, Meek rang the Sixers’ ceremonial bell, before watching his beloved team oust the Heat from the playoffs and advance to the second round. Though Meek is in a celebratory mood at the moment, his legal team is cognizant of the fact that more work needs to be done in order to fully exonerate him from his long-standing case.
In a new report released by TMZ on Wednesday, Judge Brinkley — who originally slapped Meek with a two- to four-year sentence in November — is reportedly refusing to recuse herself from the case. Their contentious relationship has been well-documented, most notably through a previous Billboard interview with one of Meek’s lawyers, Joe Tacopina, who accused Brinkley of allegedly asking the rapper to leave Roc Nation for her friend’s management company.
Though Tacopina wasn’t able to revel with his client after Meek’s release on Tuesday night, his other lawyer, Brian McMonagle, had a front-row seat and watched Meek relish the taste of freedom. Billboard spoke to McMonagle about Meek’s prison release, his client’s current head space, how Brinkley’s decision to stay on the case can impact the case and more. Check out the interview below.
I know yesterday must have been a crazy, hectic day for you, especially knowing that Meek finally was awarded bail. Share that experience with us.
It was an amazing day. You know, learning that the [Pennsylvania] Supreme Court had ordered Robert’s immediate release, sprinting into the courthouse, making sure we got him out within hours and then, seeing a miracle, which was him being released and brought to the arena to watch his beloved 76ers play and ring the bell that was heard around this region and around this world [was amazing.] So, it was a great day.
Meek spoke to CNN last week and he expressed optimism regarding his imminent release from prison. Were you surprised by how quick the turnaround was from when he had that interview?
It wasn’t quick enough for me. He has been languishing since November, incarcerated unjustifiably, unnecessarily and it couldn’t happen fast enough. I was, obviously, completely impressed with how quickly the District Attorney’s office tried to right this wrong and how our Supreme Courts stepped in and said “enough is enough.” It really reassured my faith in the criminal justice system. It was a beautiful day.
How would you describe Meek’s mind-state after being released, especially after he spent five months in prison?
Well, I was talking to him in the helicopter and he really wasn’t too sure on what the heck was going on. One minute, you’re sitting in a prison cell and the next minute, you’re being released without much notice to your adoring fans, put in a helicopter, drove over to the arena and he’s ringing a bell for a lot of people in a lot of different places.
I don’t even know if even right now and I’m with him, he’s really appreciating it and coming to grasp with what happened, but I think seeing his son last night and being reunited with him and being able to experience what he experienced last night, it almost made it all worth happening.
Obviously, it was a huge victory for Meek and him getting off on bail, but as far as his current case, it still remains alive and well. Where do you guys go from here as far as trying to put this situation to rest?
His case should have been overturned a week ago. The District Attorney’s office — to their credit — has agreed to his convictions being overturned. It should have been immediate. In every single case in which a District’s Attorney’s office has agreed to the overturning of a conviction, thousands of them, the release was immediate.
So, we’re going to ask our president judge to take over this case so that he can have his conviction immediately overturned, as it’s been done in every single other case. You know, justice has to come and it has to come now. We’re going to take the steps necessary to see to it that a fair-minded jurists give him the release that everybody, all parties, agree he should have.
There’s a report on TMZ stating that Judge Brinkley is allegedly refusing to recuse herself from the case. How do you think her decision in possibly doing that can affect Meek moving forward?
It would be unpardonable in my view for her to stay on the case based on what has happened, based on what our Supreme Court has said. There’s no reason in this world for her to continue down this road. And if she does stay on the case, make no mistake about it, we will continue to see to it that justice prevails and I think the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is watching and watching closely.
Lastly, Meek has been a huge cornerstone as far as seeking change in criminal reform is concerned. How do you think his case may serve as a precedent for prison reform moving forward?
You know, when he rang that bell last night, it wasn’t for him, it was for a lot of people that came before him, and in an effort to make sure that there aren’t any that come after him. I mean, what has happened to him has happened time and time again, and our system needs to be fixed.
It needs to be fixed for young men of color, and until we fix it, we’re going to run into situations like this. I think that the spotlight that he has shined in this case, it has shined on prison reform, probation reform, and it’s something that we’re going to take great pride in for years to come.