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R. Kelly says he wants to replace half of his legal team two months ahead of trial

Andrew Cuomo

Singer R. Kelly spoke briefly at a court hearing Wednesday, saying he approves of a significant change in his legal team just two months before his federal trial in Brooklyn is set to begin.

Half of his legal team, attorneys Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, requested to withdraw from the case with a court filing on Monday evening. Greenberg told CNN Monday he felt that Kelly was “insistent that we work with people who we felt would be rendering in effective assistance as counsel.”

Leonard told CNN that he and Greenberg were “not comfortable giving responsibility to those who haven’t tried a lot of federal criminal jury cases.”

But Kelly’s remaining attorneys, Tom Farinella and Nicole Blank Becker, told the court during a telephone status conference that Kelly had terminated Greenberg and Leonard last week prior to the attorneys’ request to withdraw from the case.

“He (Kelly) does not wish to have Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Leonard represent him,” Farinella said at the hearing. “We’re prepared to move forward with the trial so it will not affect the administration of the court’s calendar or the trial date.”

Kelly faces multiple federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges, including violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits trafficking people across state lines for prostitution or sexual activity.

He’s being held without bail in federal prison in Chicago, where he also faces federal and state charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors said at the hearing Wednesday they expect Kelly to be moved to a facility in New York shortly before his Brooklyn trial begins.

Greenberg said he and Leonard received a document from someone “claiming to be power of attorney” for Kelly last week, and that when the attorneys went to talk to Kelly, “he wouldn’t meet with us.” Donnelly said she had not received notification that the attorneys had been terminated.

Greenberg said at the hearing that after he and Leonard filed a motion to withdraw, he received an email from Kelly “indicating that he did not want us to continue on the matter.”

Kelly confirmed to US District Judge Ann Donnelly that his wish was to continue forward with Becker and Farinella.

“I apologize for the confusion,” Kelly said. “I’m thankful that you’re giving me a chance to say something about it.”

Kelly was quickly cut off by Donnelly, who warned him to consult with his lawyers before speaking.

Donnelly also asked Greenberg and Leonard to file a motion outlining any other concerns they have with Kelly’s current legal representation.

Greenberg also cited concerns that involve health matters of one of the attorneys who would remain on Kelly’s team.

“It came down to the point where we were discussing witness assignments. Frankly, everyone wants to do opening, everyone wants to do closing and that just can’t be because there’s just one of each,” Greenberg said. “We also have some concerns with certain of the members of the defense have documented some mental health issues where they can’t deal with stress. We didn’t want to give them the most important witnesses because … they shut down in those situations.”

Farinella, in response to Greenberg’s assertion, sent this statement to CNN: “My mental health problems from over a decade ago and the resulting disciplinary matter have nothing to do with this case or my ability to effectively and competently represent Mr. Kelly.”

Donnelly will need to approve of the change in Kelly’s legal team but said that she would not further delay the trial. Jury questioning is scheduled to begin on August 9 and the trial is scheduled to begin on August 11.

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