R. Kelly Reshuffles Legal Team, Dismisses Longtime Lawyer Ahead of Federal Trials

Two months before R. Kelly is set to stand trial in Brooklyn to face federal racketeering charges, the singer’s legal team engaged in some in-court drama as two of Kelly’s longstanding lawyers formally asked the judge overseeing the trial to be removed from the case at a hearing Wednesday.

Steve Greenberg — Kelly’s most public defender who has represented the singer since he started facing criminal charges in the aftermath of 2019’s Surviving R. Kelly — and Michael Leonard requested to withdraw from Kelly’s defense, stating that it was “impossible” to work alongside a pair of new lawyers Kelly had hired, Nicole Blank Becker and Thomas Farinella; at the hearing, the new lawyers stated that Kelly had terminated his prior legal team the previous week, the New York Times reports.

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“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.

During the hearing, Greenberg cited Becker and Farinella’s lack of trial experience as well as their demand for a more prominent role at trial for his and Leonard’s exit. “Frankly, everyone wants to be first chair, everyone wants to do opening, everyone wants to do closing, and that just can’t be,” Greenberg said at the hearing Wednesday; Greenberg was more forthright in an interview with the New York Times following the hearing, calling Kelly’s new lawyers “clueless.”

Douglas Anton, a New Jersey lawyer who was representing Kelly as part of the Brooklyn federal trial against the singer, has also stepped back into a “behind-the-scenes” role on the legal team, he told Billboard, adding that he withdrew from the Brooklyn trial in late 2020.

Despite the shift in Kelly’s defense team, the judge overseeing the Brooklyn case did not further postpone the federal trial that was already Covid-delayed, which is now scheduled to begin August 9th; Kelly’s Chicago trial on federal charges is set to start September 13th. Since Kelly’s arrest in July 2019, the singer has been held without bail in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, although he’ll be transported to New York closer to the Brooklyn trial’s start date.

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing and following the news of his ouster from Kelly’s legal team, Greenberg not-so-cryptically tweeted on June 7th, “Sometimes you can’t save someone from themselves, no matter how hard you try… Sometimes people just won’t listen and there is nothing you can do.”

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