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Two key lawyers withdraw from R Kelly’s defence team ahead of August trial

By | Published on Tuesday 8 June 2021

R Kelly

With just two months to go before R Kelly is due in court in New York to face sexual abuse charges, two key members of his legal team have asked to withdraw from the case. It seems that there have been disagreements between the various lawyers working for the musician.

Kelly, of course, was charged in relation to various allegations of sexual abuse, in many cases involving minors, in multiple states following the airing of the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary in 2019. He was subsequently jailed while awaiting trial, in part because of allegations he tampered with witnesses the last time he face child abuse charges in 2008.

Court hearings in both New York and his home town of Chicago have been postponed on multiple occasions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former trial is currently scheduled to begin on 9 Aug.

Although Kelly has a team of lawyers working on his case, by far the highest profile has been Steve Greenberg who has frequently issued statements on behalf of the musician. That has usually involved denying all the allegations made against his client, while also arguing that Kelly should be let out of jail while awaiting trial, particularly as the COVID virus started to spread through the prison population.

But yesterday Greenberg – and his colleague Michael Leonard – formally asked to withdraw from the case. In a letter to the court, the two attorneys stated that: “Our reasons for withdrawal are significant and it is impossible, in our belief, for us to be able to continue to properly represent Mr Kelly under the current circumstances”.

Although the letter to the court didn’t go into those “significant” reasons in any more detail, subsequent comments made to the Chicago Sun-Times suggest that tensions have been mounting between Greenberg and Leonard and three other attorneys working on the case: Douglas Anton of New Jersey, Thomas Farinella of New York, and Nicole Becker of Michigan.

Greenberg told the Sun-Times that Farinella and Becker had been seeking expanded roles in Kelly’s trial. He added in a statement: “Ultimately, as trial lawyers and in the interests of the client, we weren’t comfortable professionally with allowing lawyers who have never tried federal criminal cases to have significant trial responsibilities. That approach was not to everyone’s liking”.

Leonard added: “Ultimately, as trial lawyers and in the interests of the client, we were only comfortable professionally with giving significant trial responsibilities to those who have substantial federal criminal jury trial experience. We wish Mr Kelly nothing but the greatest success”.

Greenberg and Leonard have also indicated that they will make a similar request to the court overseeing the Chicago trial.

Meanwhile, for their part, Farinella and Becker told reporters that Greenberg and Leonard had actually been fired by Kelly before they requested permission from the judge to withdraw from the case. So… tensions.

It remains to be seen whether any of this delays the start date for the first of Kelly’s trials, though if Farinella and Becker are still very much on board – and are currently in favour with the musician – maybe it won’t.