R Kelly fires two defence lawyers as trial looms — but judge won't postpone

11 June 2021 - 08:28 By Reuters
R Kelly has told a judge he fired two of his lawyers ahead of his trial.
R Kelly has told a judge he fired two of his lawyers ahead of his trial.
Image: Reuters

R Kelly told a federal judge on Wednesday that he fired two of his defence lawyers, exposing deep rifts in the singer's legal defence team ahead of his August sex abuse trial in New York.

Kelly confirmed to US district judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn that he fired Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, leaving him with two defence lawyers.

“Is that what your wish is?” Donnelly asked Kelly during a hearing conducted by telephone.

“Absolutely, yes ma'am, your honour,” he responded.

Kelly's remaining lawyers, Thomas Farinella and Nicole Becker, said they would carry on preparing for the scheduled August 9 trial.

The hearing briefly included allegations by Greenberg that unidentified members of the defence team had “documented mental health issues” and “can't deal with stress”.

Donnelly asked that Greenberg and Leonard explain in writing why they were pulling out. She also said she would not delay the trial, which was originally scheduled for May 2020.

Farinella and Becker could not immediately be reached for comment.

Known for such hits as I Believe I Can Fly and Bump N' Grind, Kelly, 54, has faced sexual abuse allegations dating back more than two decades, including in the January 2019 Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

The Grammy Award-winning singer has pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges in cases filed in New York, Illinois and Minnesota, and has been held without bail for nearly two years.

Brooklyn prosecutors accused Kelly of running a criminal scheme in which women and underage girls were recruited to have sexual activity with him.

The Chicago case includes charges that Kelly engaged in sex acts with five minors, and used threats to keep victims quiet.