Rapper Yo Gotti sat in a Winston-Salem courtroom and heard news he didn't want to hear — that $6.6 million judgment he wanted vacated isn't going anywhere.
Last month, Judge Todd Burke of Forsyth Superior Court awarded that amount to Michael Terry, manager of Winston-Salem singer Young Fletcher, whose legal name is Lamont Fletcher.
Yo Gotti, whose legal name is Mario Mims, was accused of wiggling out of a deal in which he was paid $20,000 to rap a verse over Young Fletcher's song, an effort to boost the singer's sales and airplay. Terry accused Yo Gotti of not signing paperwork allowing for that song's release on streaming services such as Spotify and on sites such as YouTube. He also accused the rapper of trying to pay $150,000 to lure Young Fletcher to the rapper's label.
Yo Gotti never filed a written answer to the lawsuit and, after a nonjury trial last month that Yo Gotti did not attend, the judge awarded $2.2 million in actual damages to Terry — then tripled that amount to $6.6 million after making a legal determination that Yo Gotti engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Yo Gotti appeared Monday in Courtroom 6A in Forsyth Superior Court, seeking to vacate the $6.6 million judgment. His primary argument for doing so was simple. He argued he was never personally served with the lawsuit and that, if he was never served the lawsuit, he had no way of defending himself against the allegations contained within the suit or to even know about any hearings in the case.
Burke didn't buy that argument and upheld his original judgment in the case.
Terry's attorneys said they tried to serve the lawsuit against Yo Gotti previously — and without success — through the rapper's agents and lawyers in New York.
Yo Gotti isn't likely to pay up anytime soon. His attorneys told Burke that they plan to file an appeal with the N.C. Court of Appeals. It will likely take months before the appellate court issues a decision.
"Yo Gotti learned today that my lawyers don't play, but we should've sat down and got this resolved as businessmen," Terry said through his attorneys, Clarke Dummit, Brett Moore and Abigail Seymour. "I got great artists, and we could put something together where we all win. The opportunity still stands."
Yo Gotti declined comment as he walked out of the courtroom.
Yo Gotti, 38, took the stand Monday morning and insisted that he was never personally served with the lawsuit. He said he didn't recognize Sgt. J.E. Gilbertson of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, who testified that he personally served the lawsuit to Yo Gotti after the rapper performed a show on May 6, 2018 at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.
While Yo Gotti was on the stand, Dummit waved an affidavit that the rapper signed. He pointed to one part of the affidavit in which Yo Gotti denied that any deputy served him with legal documents while he was at the concert. In the affidavit, Yo Gotti mentions a period of time when he walked from the stage to his car. Dummit asked Yo Gotti why he specifically mentioned that period of time when he was at the Fairgrounds for about an hour and a half that day.
"You focused on two minutes," Dummit said.
Yo Gotti said he didn't understand what Dummit was getting at.
"You knew exactly when the deputy approached," Dummit responded.
"I didn't focus on it," Yo Gotti said.
Yo Gotti's attorneys, Brent Powell and James Cooney III of Womble Bond Dickinson law firm, played a video showing Yo Gotti coming off the stage, signing autographs and greeting fans. Cooney argued that nothing prevented Gilbertson from handing the complaint directly to Yo Gotti.
Gilbertson testified that as he handed the legal documents to the rapper, a member of the rapper's security team took the papers. He said he told the rapper that he was handing him civil papers and that the rapper looked at him as he was attempting to hand the papers to Yo Gotti.
Under the policies of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, Gilbertson said he believed he had properly served the rapper with the legal documents. Cooney argued that, under the law, that is not considered proper service.
Lamont Wynne, a member of Yo Gotti's security team who took the complaint, said he was not authorized to accept legal documents on the rapper's behalf. Wynne said he did not know what kind of papers Gilbertson was handing up. If he had known that this was a lawsuit, the proper protocol would have been for him to give the documents to the rapper's manager.
Cooney and Powell also argued that the judgment should be thrown out because the court lacks jurisdiction over Yo Gotti, who lives in Tennessee and tours around the country. They also argued that the factual findings Burke made in his ruling aren't supported by sufficient evidence.
Dummit said Yo Gotti has performed in North Carolina more than 20 times and that he did business with a Winston-Salem man.
Burke said Yo Gotti waived any challenge to the allegations by not responding the lawsuit or appearing in court for hearings.
Cooney mentioned in court that the song for which Yo Gotti recorded a verse is playing on YouTube and has had about 29,000 views. That song does not appear to be playing on Apple Music or Spotify.
Dummit said Terry cannot make any royalties with Apple Music or any other pay channels without the signed agreement from Yo Gotti.