CHICAGO (CBS) — Accusing prosecutors of indicting R. Kelly for sexual abuse only under pressure from celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, the singer’s defense team is seeking a court order to preserve all emails and other communications between Avenatti and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
The defense team also wants any emails between Avenatti and witnesses or accusers in the case.
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg said the evidence he’s seen so far in the case suggests Avenatti bullied or manipulated prosecutors into charging Kelly.
“We know what happened in this case was a result of his pressure, and nothing else,” Greenberg said. “That’s what happened in this case; a rush to judgment, a rush to prosecute, because of pressure all colluded by Michael Avenatti.”
In February, Avenatti said he provided Cook County prosecutors with a 45-minute VHS tape showing Kelly having sex with an underage girl. Eight days later, Kelly was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, involving four alleged victims, including three underage girls, including one attack allegedly recorded on tape.
Greenberg said he wants to see all communication between Avenatti and Foxx, as well as any witnesses or accusers in the case, leading up to the decision to charge Kelly.
Greenberg filed the motion Monday, a week after Avenatti was arrested on federal charges of extortion, wire fraud, and mail fraud. He also noted Foxx recused herself from the Jussie Smollett case after having communication with representatives for Smollett’s family before police accused him of faking a hate crime against himself.
“We’ve already seen that State’s Attorney Foxx has conversations with people about pending cases, pending investigations. I want to know what conversations she had with Avenatti about this case, about these facts, and what occurred,” he said.
Cook County Judge Lawrence Flood did not immediately rule on defense attorney Greenberg’s request to preserve all communications at a Monday hearing on his motion, instead stating the matter would be handled at the next hearing on the case on May 7. Kelly did not attend Monday’s hearing, due to an illness, according to Greenberg. Flood said Kelly must be in court for the next hearing in May.
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez said prosecutors already are required to preserve all their communications, but said they have no authority to require police to do so, and noted there could be an issue requiring witnesses or accusers to do so if Avenatti is their attorney.
“The tip of the iceberg is the fact that counsel has already stated that Mr. Avenatti was the attorney for I believe all of these people. So we’re delving into the realm of attorney client privilege,” she said.
However, Greenberg said he only knows of two alleged victims who Avenatti represents.
Based on the evidence he’s seen so far, Greenberg said there are “all sorts of problems” with the case against Kelly.
“When you get in bed with fleas, this is what happens,” Greenberg said.
Specifically, Greenberg said the tape in the case is the same one at the center of the child pornography charges Kelly was acquitted of in 2008.
“There’s no new tape. Avenatti’s full of it when he said there’s a new tape,” he said.
Greenberg claimed charges against Kelly involve old cases that were rejected years ago. He claimed prosecutors only filed the charges Avenatti claimed to have a new tape of Kelly following the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which detailed multiple allegations of sexual and physical abuse. Greenberg called that documentary a “hatchet job.”
“In 33 years of doing this, I’ve never seen a case where it’s rejected after a full investigation, and then 15-plus years later, without any re-investigation, just because the sort of public perception has turned, that it’s charged,” he said.
Meantime, Greenberg withdrew a previous request he had filed, asking to adjust the terms of Kelly’s bond so he could travel to Dubai to perform in concerts there. Kelly’s defense team had earlier sought more time to provide more information on the concert plans before making their case.
Kelly’s publicist, Darrell Johnson, said the singer had been negotiating a contract to perform in Dubai but has no scheduled performances now.
Greenberg said, if that changes, they will return to court to seek permission for Kelly to travel as needed for any concerts. The terms of his bond currently prohibit him from leaving Illinois.