David Kenner, the attorney who unsuccessfully represented Fugees rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel in his criminal trial case year, will plead guilty to a criminal contempt charge over allegations that he leaked grand jury materials to reporters ahead of the trial, prosecutors say.
In a court filing Thursday, prosecutors told a federal judge that Kenner had “agreed to accept responsibility for violating the court’s protective order” and plead guilty to a misdemeanor over the incident, in which he allegedly leaked “swathes of sensitive internal government records” to reporters.
It’s unclear what kind of repercussions Kenner will face under the plea deal. His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment. A hearing is set for Friday for Kenner to enter his plea.
Kenner’s planned plea comes as he is already facing accusations that he botched Michel’s April trial, in which the rapper was convicted of violating federal foreign lobbying laws. Michel’s new lawyers say Kenner “utterly failed” his client — including by using experimental A.I. tools to work the case — and are seeking a new trial on the grounds that he deprived Michel of an adequate defense.
Michel, a founding member of the influential hip-hop group Fugees, was charged in 2019 with funneling money from a now-fugitive Malaysian financier through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. He was also accused of trying to squelch a Justice Department investigation and influence an extradition case on behalf of China under the Trump administration.
In April, following a trial that included testimony from actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Michel was convicted on 10 counts including conspiracy, witness tampering and failing to register as an agent of China. Throughout the trial, Michel was represented by Kenner, a well-known Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who has previously worked for hip-hop luminaries like Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight and, most recently, Tory Lanez.
Weeks before the trial even began, federal prosecutors accused Kenner of committing a “blatant violation” of court orders by leaking sealed documents, including materials from a grand jury, to reporters for the financial outlet Bloomberg in an effort to engineer “defense-oriented articles” on Michel’s case ahead of the trial.
“In a show of gamesmanship seeking to influence public opinion and bias potential jurors in favor of defendant, the defense has disclosed for publication swaths of sensitive internal government records,” prosecutors wrote at the time. “The disclosure may result in harassment or intimidation of government witnesses – in a case in which witness tampering is among the charges.”
According to prosecutors, the two Bloomberg articles (read them here and here) that came from Kenner’s leaks not only included sensitive sealed information, but told the story “largely from Michel’s perspective” and incorporated “defense themes of innocent alternative explanations.” They called Kenner’s conduct an effort to “influence the jury pool” by selectively disclosing facts about the case. Bloomberg and its reporters were not accused of any wrongdoing.
After Michel split with Kenner, his new lawyers raised those leaking accusations as another sign of Kenner’s missteps during the case. They said the charges against Kenner himself created a conflict of interest and a distraction as he was trying to defend his client during the trial.
“Kenner’s conflict of interest—owing to his significant stress and distraction from the contempt charges, and his incentive to curry favor with the prosecution and pursue an unaggressive defense—adversely affected his performance at trial,” Michel’s new lawyers wrote back in October.
Kenner has denied the accusations, and prosecutors have argued that his conduct during the trial was not enough to require an entirely new trial. A hearing on the issue was held earlier this month, and a judge will soon rule on Michel’s motion to overturn the verdict.
In a statement to Billboard on Thursday, Erica Dumas, a spokeswoman for Pras, cited Kenner’s guilty plea as yet another example of his ex-attorney’s shortcomings: “Unfortunately, former attorney David Kenner failed at every turn to competently represent Pras over the course of this lengthy legal battle.”
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