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Judge allows Chicago-based R. Kelly lawyers to withdraw from case before Brooklyn trial

Thursday’s hearing came as attorneys continued with final preparations for Kelly’s long-delayed sex-trafficking trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 9 in Brooklyn federal court.

R. Kelly walks with supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019.
R. Kelly walks with supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

NEW YORK — A federal judge Thursday allowed jailed R&B singer R. Kelly to shake up his legal defense team just weeks before he is set to go on trial in New York on racketeering charges.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly granted a request by Kelly’s top two attorneys, Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, of Chicago, to withdraw from the high-profile case amid a falling-out among Kelly’s team of lawyers. Greenberg and Leonard told the judge it would be “impossible” for them to continue representing Kelly.

Thursday’s hearing came as attorneys continued with final preparations for Kelly’s long-delayed sex-trafficking trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 9 in Brooklyn federal court.

The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling R&B singer is charged with leading an enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who helped him recruit women and girls for sex. Federal prosecutors say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly.

The case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also faces a federal indictment in Chicago charging him with child pornography and obstruction of justice. It alleges he thwarted an earlier 2008 prosecution in Cook County with threats, gifts and six-figure payoffs.

The judge presiding over the case in Chicago canceled its September trial date during a separate hearing earlier Thursday, saying he wanted to wait and see how things play out in New York.

Kelly has denied ever abusing anyone.

Contributing: Jon Seidel