Judge Won’t Replace Special Prosecutor in Smollett Case

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

CHICAGO (CN) – Brushing aside his disclosure of a potential conflict of interest, an Illinois judge gave a special prosecutor the green light Friday to continue investigating how the State’s Attorney’s Office handled the brief prosecution of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.

Dan K. Webb of the Chicago firm Winston & Strawn was picked in August to look into possible wrongdoing by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, including Foxx’s own potential conflict of interest, in her handling of the criminal case against Smollett, who was accused of staging a hate crime against himself.

On Monday, Webb requested a hearing in front of Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin after a phone call from Foxx’s attorney telling him they had discovered he made a political contribution to her campaign in 2016.

Webb said in his motion and in court Friday that he had no recollection of writing the $1,000 check or attending the fundraiser his firm held on her behalf in October of that year.

However, Webb learned that a colleague, Kimball Anderson, had put on the event and said that he had most likely asked Webb for the contribution, something which he says he agrees to regularly.

“I simply don’t know her,” Webb said of Foxx in court. “I don’t see how this could possibly be a conflict of interest.”

Webb was chosen by Toomin after he heard arguments from retired appellate judge Sheila O’Brien, who filed a petition for the appointment of a special prosecutor, and lawyers from Foxx’s office.

O’Brien asked the court to order an investigation into Foxx, who recused herself from Smollett’s case due to contact with one of his family members. It was later revealed that she was still involved in the prosecution.

The State’s Attorney’s Office came under public fire when it abruptly dropped all felony charges against the actor.

Smollett was indicted after the Chicago Police Department found evidence that he had staged a racist and homophobic hate crime against himself in January.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel were outraged by the decision to drop charges. The city has since sued Smollett to recover the $130,000 it says it spent on investigating his false claims.

In addition to investigating Foxx, Webb could also recommend that a new criminal case be opened against Smollett.

Although O’Brien raised concerns about “what the person on the street thinks,” and Cathy Stein, an attorney with Foxx’s office, said Foxx herself was concerned with public perception of Webb’s donation, Toomin ruled Friday there was no legal issue.

“We have to look at the relationship Mr. Webb had with Kim Foxx,” the judge said, “which by all intents and purposes was non-existent.”

“Judge Toomin is the person I wanted to make this ruling because he is the one who appointed me,” Webb said outside of the courtroom.

Webb added that he asked for a court hearing about the contribution because he wanted the public to know about it.

O’Brien praised Webb’s actions, saying “if we’re going to get this kind of transparency, that’s a great thing.”

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