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‘So Unseemly’: Judge Calls Out R. Kelly’s Legal Team For Infighting, ‘Mudslinging’ Ahead of Singer’s Sex Trafficking Trial


A federal judge in Brooklyn on Thursday told the attorneys representing disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, 54, in his racketeering and sex trafficking case to keep their infighting out of her courtroom, saying it was the first time she’d seen such behavior among co-counsel for a client.

Presiding over a pre-trial hearing concerning a motion to have the Grammy-winning artist released on bond before his trial next month, U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly said the “mudslinging” between Kelly’s new legal team and the two longtime attorneys he dismissed last month needed to end immediately.

“It is so unseemly. I’m not here to mediate a dispute among lawyers,” an exasperated Donnelly remarked about the squabbling. She then added that she’d “never had a situation” where co-counsel has behaved like Kelly’s attorneys in her courtroom before.

The rift in Kelly’s legal team was exposed during a hearing last month when he told Judge Donnelly that he no longer wanted his Chicago-based defense attorneys Steven A. Greenberg and Michael I. Leonard to represent him during his New York trial. Without getting into specifics, Greenberg alleged that remaining members of Kelly’s legal team—Thomas A. Farinella and Nicole Blank Becker—“can’t deal with stress” and have “documented mental health issues.” Greenberg also slammed the two attorneys in an explosive interview with the New York Daily News where he said Farinella and Becker were “really fucking [Kelly] over.”

Farinella and Becker last week filed a 12-page emergency motion seeking to have Kelly released on bond. The motion claimed that the attorneys hadn’t had sufficient access to Kelly to prepare a defense and alleged that Greenberg and Leonard failed provide Kelly with discovery materials from the case. Greenberg, who denied the allegations to The Chicago Tribune, this week filed a response with the court that is currently being kept under seal.

Judge Donnelly took issue with several of the allegations in the emergency motion, including an insinuation that when Kelly was in Chicago his conversations with attorneys were being recorded. Donnelly asked if such a serious allegation was brought to the attention of the judge presiding over Kelly’s case in Chicago and Farinella said it had not been.

Donnelly also asked why Farinella and Becker had waited so long to claim Kelly was not receiving discovery material requested while in detention.

“That’s a good question,” a seemingly nervous Farinella responded after a long pause. He told Donnelly that everything in the motion was based on his good faith understanding of what had happened, though somethings may have been based on representations made to him by others.

Donnelly put an end to the discussion by saying it was her observation that Greenberg, Leonard, and the rest of Kelly’s legal team had “made every effort to ensure that Mr. Kelly was well represented.” Later she also emphasized that all attorneys to first make sure there is a “factual basis” for any statements made to the court.

The bond request was denied with Donnelly reasoning that nothing had changed since her initial ruling. She said there was “no condition or combination of conditions” that could guarantee Kelly would return for trial or not be a danger to the community.

To ensure that Kelly would have sufficient access to his legal team, Donnelly also said she would be willing to provide a court order guaranteeing the attorneys could secure a private conference room in MCC, where Kelly is currently being housed, agreeing with Farinella that it was critical “because you’re preparing for trial.”

“But you already knew that,” Donnelly added, drawing a bit of laughter from the near empty courtroom and injecting a bit of levity into the proceeding.

At the request of Kelly’s newest attorney Deveraux L. Cannick, Donnelly also said that jury selection for the trial would go forward as previously scheduled on Aug. 9, but agreed to delay opening statements until Aug. 18 to allow Cannick to get more fully caught up on the case. Donnelly had originally agreed to delay arguments until Aug. 23, but the government said that one of their witnesses—an alleged victim of Kelly’s who was named in the indictment—was pregnant and due to deliver on Aug. 27.

One of the federal prosecutors noted that a newborn baby would not be conducive to traveling from Chicago to New York to testify.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” Donnelly quipped before agreeing to the shorter delay.

[image via Antonio Perez/Pool/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.