R. Kelly Victim Granted First Dibs to Singer’s Sony Music Royalty Funds in Court Ruling
A state appeals court has resolved a dispute over who gets access to Kelly's account to pay for monetary judgments, but major questions remain unanswered.
An R. Kelly victim who won a $4 million judgment against the singer will get first crack at pulling money from the singer’s royalty account with Sony Music — after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that her claims should take priority over a Chicago landlord that’s also owed millions.
In a decision on Thursday (March 23), the state high court said Heather Williams was entitled to tap into Kelly’s account with Sony — valued at $1.5 million in 2020 — before Midwest Commercial Funding, a property manager that won its own separate $3.5 million ruling against Kelly over unpaid rent at a Chicago studio.
Williams filed a civil lawsuit against Kelly in 2019, alleging that when she was 16 years old, the singer lured her into his studio with promises that she could be in a music video and then repeatedly had sex with her as a minor. In 2020, she won a judgment of $4 million against Kelly on those accusations.
Thursday’s decision upheld a lower court’s earlier ruling that Williams — and not Midwest Commercial — should be given priority access to the royalties because she was the first to properly demand the money from Sony. That earlier ruling had ordered Sony to hand over to Williams “any funds currently in Kelly’s royalty account,” and to keep giving her his royalties until the judgment was paid off.
Disbursement of Kelly’s funds held by Sony has been paused while litigation has played out; it’s unclear how much money is now in the account. The company is not named in any lawsuits and is not accused of any wrongdoing. A rep for Sony declined to comment on the ruling or on the status of Kelly’s royalties.
Following Thursday’s ruling, Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, tells Billboard that she’s currently seeking to overturn the underlying $4 million judgment. She says the award to Williams — a so-called default judgment, meaning it was issued after Kelly failed to respond — “never should have been entered.”
“I’ve never in my career seen such a flouting of the rules to deny him even the opportunity to defend these civil cases, even when the courts were fully aware that Kelly was incarcerated, unrepresented at points, and facing multiple criminal indictments,” Bonjean says. “Indeed, much of these civil proceedings occurred without Kelly’s knowledge.”
But the $4 million judgment was already upheld once by an appeals court, and Bonjean said she faces an “uphill battle” to overturn the judgment because of the actions of Kelly’s prior lawyers.
An attorney for Williams declined to comment on the litigation. An attorney for Midwest Commercial Funding did not return a request for comment.
Though Thursday’s decision gave priority to Williams over Midwest Commercial Funding, it’s unclear whether she’ll enjoy similar priority over a slew of additional monetary penalties that Kelly owes to victims as a result of his federal criminal convictions.
After he was sentenced last summer to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking and racketeering in New York, Kelly was ordered to pay more than $480,000 in fines and restitution; after he was sentenced in February on child pornography charges in Illinois, another $42,000 was tacked on. Last fall, prosecutors confiscated nearly $30,000 in Kelly’s prison account in an effort to start paying those penalties.
A representative for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York declined to comment on the impact of Thursday’s ruling or the status of federal restitution efforts against Kelly. A rep for the Us Attorney’s Office in Illinois did not immediately return a request for comment.
Read the Illinois Supreme Court’s entire ruling here: