Turmoil in R. Kelly’s defense team: Chicago lawyers say they want out of Brooklyn racketeering trial with 2 months to go

But two remaining members of Kelly’s defense team say attorneys Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard were fired by the singer before they asked to withdraw Monday.

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R. Kelly walks out of the Daley Center after an appearance in child support court in March 2019.

R. Kelly walks out of the Daley Center after an appearance in child support court in March 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Two months before R&B superstar R. Kelly is set to face trial in federal court in Brooklyn, his two leading Chicago-based defense attorneys asked Monday to withdraw from the case.

However, two remaining members of Kelly’s defense team say attorneys Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard were fired by the singer before they made their request.

Greenberg and Leonard have served as the most prominent members of Kelly’s legal team since sex abuse allegations resurfaced against the singer in 2019. Greenberg told the Chicago Sun-Times that prosecutors were told about the withdrawal request Monday morning.

“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,” Greenberg wrote in a letter to the judge filed with the court later in the day. 

The two men offered to serve as stand-by counsel during Kelly’s Brooklyn trial, set for Aug. 9. They also asked for a hearing to discuss the matter further. A status hearing in the case is already set for Wednesday.

Though their request threatens to again postpone Kelly’s long-awaited trial, the singer has been imprisoned for nearly two years and the judge may be hesitant to delay it much longer.

Greenberg’s letter didn’t go into further detail about the reason for the request, but he and Leonard shared statements with the Sun-Times suggesting a dispute over trial responsibilities prompted the move.

Kelly, 54, is also represented in the case by attorneys 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 greater roles in Kelly’s trial.

“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,” Greenberg said in a statement. “That approach was not to everyone’s liking.”

Greenberg later added, “we wish (Kelly) the best and we’re rooting for him.”

Leonard wrote that, “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.”

Farinella and Becker later released statements saying Kelly fired Greenberg and Leonard before their letter to the judge was filed. Farinella and Becker declined to comment further, as did Anton.

Kelly is charged in Brooklyn with racketeering. His indictment there 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 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.

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