Just months before he’s slated to go on trial in a racketeering case in federal court in Brooklyn, two of R. Kelly’s defense attorneys are seeking to leave his legal team. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday (June 7) that Chicago-based lawyers Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard asked to withdraw from the case, though one of the remaining attorneys on the case is claiming that the pair were fired before they could quit. Billboard also confirmed on Tuesday that a third lawyer, New Jersey attorney Douglas Anton, is no longer an official part of the team for the New York case.
Greenberg told the paper that prosecutors were informed of his and Leonard’s decision on Monday from the two lead attorneys on the team hired to defend the singer who is being held on sex abuse allegations. “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.
Leonard confirmed to Billboard on Tuesday that the Sun-Times’ reporting that he and Greenberg have filed a motion to withdraw from the case are accurate.
Kelly’s New York trial is slated to kick off on Aug. 9. A status hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and at press time, it was unclear if this development will lead to another postponement in the court date for the singer, who has been behind bars for almost two years. The New York indictment alleges that Kelly led an “enterprise” that included managers, bodyguards, drivers and other employees who allegedly helped him recruit women and girls for sex.
Kelly is also slated to face trial in his native Chicago on accusations that he filmed himself having sex with underage girls and paying off potential witnesses at his 2008 child pornography trial to get them to change their stories; the singer was acquitted in that trial. Kelly, who has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, has been locked up in Chicago’s downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center since his arrest in July 2019. “The allegations aren’t true because he never knowingly had sex with an underage woman, he never forced anyone to do anything, he never held anyone captive, he never abused anyone,” Greenberg told the Associated Press in January 2019.
This past December, a federal judge again delayed the Illinois trial over concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the start of that trial to Sept. 13. Kelly, 54, is also facing state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.
According to the Sun-Times, Greenberg’s letter to the judge didn’t include details about the reasons for his withdrawal, but he and Leonard sent statements to the paper “suggesting a dispute over trial responsibilities prompted the move.” The men reportedly claimed that New Jersey attorney Anton and New York-based Thomas Farinella were angling for a larger role in the 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 his statement to the Sun-Times. “That approach was not to everyone’s liking.” Greenberg had not responded to Billboard’s requests for comment at press time.
In a statement to Billboard, Farinella and co-counsel Nicole Blank Becker say, “The only comment we have at this time is that Mr. Kelly terminated both lawyers prior to filing their motion.”
But Leonard denies that he and Greenberg were fired by the musician. He tells Billboard, “I did not receive such communication from Mr. Kelly.” Greenberg has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Farinella also confirmed that Anton is no longer part of the New York case’s defense team.
Anton tells Billboard that he withdrew from the federal case in New York in late 2020, though “not under the same circumstances” as Greenberg and Leonard. He says he’s still representing Kelly and taking part in his defense “behind the scenes,” but not as an attorney of record. Anton adds that he spoke to Farinella and Blank Becker about the case on Monday night and is awaiting the results of Wednesday’s case management conference.
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