Singer R. Kelly tells judge he fired two defense lawyers as trial looms

Singer Robert Kelly, known as R. Kelly, is pictured in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., in this March 6, 2019 handout booking photo. Cook County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

June 9 (Reuters) - R. Kelly told a federal judge on Wednesday that he fired two of his defense lawyers, exposing deep rifts in the singer's legal defense team ahead of his August sex abuse trial in New York.

Kelly confirmed to U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn that he fired Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, leaving him with two defense lawyers.

"Is that what your wish is?" Donnelly asked Kelly during a hearing conducted by telephone.

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"Absolutely, yes ma'am, your honor," he responded.

Kelly's remaining lawyers, Thomas Farinella and Nicole Becker, said they will keep preparing for the scheduled Aug. 9 trial.

The hearing briefly included allegations by Greenberg that unidentified members of the defense team had "documented mental health issues" and "can't deal with stress."

Donnelly asked that Greenberg and Leonard explain in writing why they were pulling out. She also said she would not delay the trial, which was originally scheduled for May 2020.

Farinella and Becker could not immediately be reached for comment.

Known for such hits as "I Believe I Can Fly" and "Bump N' Grind," Kelly, 54, has faced sexual abuse allegations dating back more than two decades, including in the January 2019 Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly."

The Grammy Award-winning singer has pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges in cases filed in New York, Illinois and Minnesota, and has been held without bail for nearly two years.

Brooklyn prosecutors accused Kelly of running a criminal scheme in which women and underage girls were recruited to have sexual activity with him.

The Chicago case includes charges that Kelly engaged in sex acts with five minors, and used threats to keep victims quiet.

According to court records, a trial is scheduled for September, but the judge has asked both sides to propose a new date.

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Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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