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Federal judge in Brooklyn sets conflict-of-interest hearing in R. Kelly case

The judge did not explain what prompted the hearing, but she had previously ordered Kelly’s Chicago-based attorneys to file a letter explaining why they decided to withdraw from Kelly’s racketeering case.

R. Kelly talks to a supporter as he walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019. 
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

More drama could be brewing for R. Kelly’s legal team as a federal judge in Brooklyn on Friday scheduled a hearing typically meant to determine whether a lawyer has a conflict of interest in a case.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly set a so-called Curcio hearing in Kelly’s case for Thursday.

The judge did not explain what prompted the hearing, but she had previously ordered Kelly’s Chicago-based attorneys to file a letter under seal explaining why they decided earlier this week to withdraw from Kelly’s racketeering case in Brooklyn.

The case is set to go to trial Aug. 9 — in two months.

Meanwhile, Kelly confirmed for the judge during a hearing Wednesday that he’d prefer to move forward with attorneys Thomas Farinella, of New York, and Nicole Blank Becker, of Michigan. Farinella told Donnelly during that hearing that “We’re prepared to move forward with trial.”

Kelly appeared finally on track for trial later this summer when attorneys Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard of Chicago suddenly asked to withdraw from the case earlier this week. Farinella and Becker say the men were actually fired by Kelly.

Though the ongoing turmoil threatens Kelly’s August trial date, the judge has so far signaled she does not want to reschedule it.

Greenberg wrote in a letter to the judge Monday 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.”

Though that letter contained no further detail, Greenberg and Leonard have since pointed to a dispute about trial responsibilities.

Greenberg on Friday said, “Our main goal is always that [Kelly] have competent counsel, and the judge just wants to make sure of that, too.”

Leonard and Farinella declined comment Friday, and Becker couldn’t be reached by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Kelly’s indictment in Brooklyn alleges he led an “enterprise” made up of his managers, bodyguards, drivers and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex.

A separate indictment in Chicago charges Kelly with child pornography and obstruction of justice. It alleges he thwarted his 2008 prosecution in Cook County with threats, gifts and six-figure payoffs.

Kelly, 54, has been held in Chicago’s downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center since his arrest in July 2019, though authorities have recently said they would be preparing to move him to New York for trial.

A prosecutor told the judge this week that paperwork had been filed to move Kelly, but she said Kelly’s attorneys “would like him to remain in Chicago for as long as possible.”

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson