Judge Unseals Records in ‘Empire’ Actor’s Criminal Case

CHICAGO (CN) – An Illinois judge who presided over “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s short-lived criminal case accusing him of staging a hate crime ruled Thursday to make all records in the case public. 

Actor Jussie Smollett talks to the media before leaving Cook County ccourt after his charges were dropped March 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Cook County Judge Steven G. Watkins granted a request from media outlets to unseal the records, reading from a written ruling that said Smollett speaking in public and on camera about his case shows that the actor is not worried about privacy.

The case was sealed as part of Smollett’s deal with county prosecutors, in which he surrendered his $10,000 bond and they dropped all 16 felony disorderly conduct charges against him for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself.

The actor claimed two men attacked him in January and put a rope around his neck, but two brothers he knows later told Chicago police they were paid $3,500 to participate in the hoax.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office were blasted by city officials for dropping the charges so quickly, with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson slamming the decision.

Leaked text messages showed Foxx, although recused from Smollett’s case due to a familiarity with potential witnesses, was still involved, telling one of the prosecutors he was being “overcharged.”

Foxx also admitted to having contact with one of Smollett’s family members about the investigation into his attack at the behest of former Michelle Obama aide Tina Tchen.

Foxx herself asked for Smollett’s case files to be unsealed, but only to be given to the Office of the Independent Inspector General.  

The prosecutor wants the office to conduct an investigation into her actions, presumably to prove she did nothing wrong. The inspector general could uncover facts but cannot take any legal action.

A retired appellate judge, however, has taken legal action.

Sheila O’Brien filed a petition with the Cook County criminal court to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Foxx’s handling of the case. 

O’Brien wanted her petition transferred to a judge outside of Cook County, but her motion was denied last week.

As of now, it will be heard by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Toomin, who was given the case when O’Brien brought up the fact that Cook County Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. has a son working in Foxx’s office. 

O’Brien also asked for information on how and why Toomin was selected to hear her case, but he declined in court last week, saying “there is no indication of any prejudice by anybody.”

It was initially reported by the Chicago Sun-Times that Tchen refused Wednesday to be served with a subpoena from O’Brien to bring records of her conversations with Foxx to an upcoming hearing, but the newspaper later clarified that the managing partner of the law firm where she works accepted the subpoena on her behalf.

Although O’Brien has since filed additional motions to get a new judge, Toomin is expected to hear arguments from her and the prosecutors’ office May 31, possibly ruling from the bench that day.

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