R. Kelly is asking a federal judge to overturn his convictions for sex trafficking and racketeering — by throwing his previous legal team under the bus.
Weeks after news broke that Kelly had fired his entire old legal team, the disgraced singer’s new lawyer filed a motion Thursday arguing that well-documented infighting among his former lawyers had left them so unprepared for last summer’s trial that it violated his constitutional right to effective legal counsel.
“In this complex RICO prosecution, defendant’s legal team fell apart mere weeks before the commencement of trial,” the singer’s new lawyer, Jennifer Ann Bonjean, wrote. “Energy, resources, and time that should have been devoted to preparing for trial were expended battling each other until two of defendant’s more experienced attorneys were granted leave to withdraw. Defendant was left with a disjointed, unprepared trial team and no singular defense strategy.”
The problems with the old legal team were “so serious as to demand a new trial without a showing of prejudice,” Bonjean wrote.
In a separate motion also filed Thursday, Bonjean argued that the judge should simply acquit Kelly because the government’s evidence had been too weak to support the conviction. She said the feds had “misused” the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO — a statute that’s more frequently used against mobsters and drug cartels.
“Invigorated by an influential social movement determined to punish centuries of male misbehavior through symbolic prosecutions of high-profile men, the government brought a RICO prosecution against the defendant that was absurdly remote from the [statute]’s intent,” Bonjean wrote.
“The government constructed a RICO theory of prosecution designed, not to effectuate the purpose of the RICO statute, but to prosecute the defendant for alleged misdeeds going back decades without pesky statutes of limitations obstacles,” she wrote.
After decades of accusations of sexual misconduct, Kelly was convicted in September on nine counts related to accusations that the singer had orchestrated a long-running scheme to recruit and abuse women and underage girls, setting the stage for potential life-time prison sentence. He’s also facing a second trial, currently scheduled to start in August in Chicago federal court, on separate charges that Kelly obtained child pornography and obstructed justice.
Before and after last summer’s trial, Kelly’s legal team has been in turmoil.
As detailed by Billboard last year, Kelly’s legal team was plagued by problems of infighting over strategy and leadership, prompting two veteran lawyers, Steve Greenberg and Michael Leonard, to drop out before the trial even started. Then last month, Kelly disclosed that he had fired the rest of his team, which included attorneys Devereaux Cannick, Calvin Scholar, Nicole Blank Becker and Thomas A. Farinella.
Kelly’s defense is now solely in the hands of Bonjean, who was hired in October. She is best known for winning a ruling last summer that overturned Bill Cosby’s 2018 sex assault conviction. If Thursday’s motions are unsuccessful, Bonjean will likely file an appeal to the U.S. Appeals Court for the Second Circuit. She will also represent Kelly in the upcoming trial in Chicago.