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Smollett attorney still on the hook in defamation case brought by Osundairo brothers

A federal judge declined to toss defamation claims against one of Jussie Smollett's attorneys, who in 2019 accused two Black Nigerian-American brothers of wearing “whiteface” while helping the actor carry out a bogus hate crime.

CHICAGO (CN) — The legal saga surrounding Jussie Smollett turned a new page Friday morning when a federal judge in Chicago released a ruling declaring that defamation claims against one of Smollett's attorneys can proceed to trial.

The case was brought by Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, a pair of brothers who say they helped Smollett carry out a bogus hate crime in 2019.

Days after Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx dropped the initial criminal charges against Smollett in March 2019, the actor's attorney Tina Glandian appeared on the "Today" show and "Good Morning America," as well as several podcasts. She said that it was the Osundairo brothers who lied to police about the attack, not her client. On the "Today" segment specifically, she suggested the Black Nigerian-American brothers may have been wearing "whiteface" to conceal their identities while carrying out a real hate crime against Smollett.

"I was looking up the brothers and one of the first videos that showed up actually was one of the brothers in whiteface, doing a Joker monologue with white makeup on," Glandian said at the time. "And so it's not implausible."

The Osundairo brothers quickly fired back against Glandian, her co-worker Mark Geragos and their law firm Geragos & Geragos by suing them for defamation in Chicago federal court in April of that year. Though Abimbola Osundairo had performed a monologue as the Joker character in white makeup in 2016, they denied ever trying to portray themselves as Caucasian.

"Ms. Glandian’s statements that plaintiffs donned 'whiteface' on the day of Mr. Smollett’s alleged attack are patently false and defamatory, as neither wore 'whiteface' or pretended in any way to be Caucasian... these statements were unnecessarily made on national media to advance Mr. Smollett’s and Ms. Glandian’s reputation and fame at high cost to plaintiffs," the complaint states.

With Smollett now convicted of staging the fake hate crime and the brothers vindicated, at least in the eyes of the court, U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland has decided it's time to settle this tangential affair. In her ruling released Friday, she dismissed the defamation claims against the firm Geragos & Geragos and Geragos himself. Glandian also won the dismissal of several counts, but she is still on the hook for her televised whiteface comments.

The major theme of Rowland's opinion is that while most of the statements for which the Osundairo brothers sued are unspecific or can be construed as innocent conjecture by attorneys discussing a case, Glandian may have intended to imply the brothers' guilt with her whiteface comment.

"Given the context, a plausible interpretation of Glandian’s 'whiteface' comment is that she was attempting to dispel the inconsistency in Smollett’s story (the attackers had light skin) and bolster her contention that the plaintiffs (who are not light skinned) were Smollett’s attackers," wrote Rowland, a Donald Trump appointee. (Parentheses in original.)

She also wrote that all parties agreed the charges brought against Geragos and the law firm were in error, leaving Glandian to face the case alone.

“Once again the Court has rejected and dismissed this frivolous lawsuit against the Geragos firm and Mark Geragos. We are confident that the single remaining allegation reflecting Ms. Glandian’s opinion will be dismissed in due course.” Glandian's lead attorney Brendan Healey said in prepared statement.

The Osundairo brothers' own lead attorney Gregory Kulis also said he was confident of the case moving forward, noting "the court found there was validity to the claim."

He also said his legal team would likely try to bring Smollett back to court, this time to get testimony for their case.

"There's a very good possibility we'll issue a subpoena to [Smollett]," Kulis said.

In a another twist to the story, Healey and Geragos & Geragos filed a countersuit against Kulis and the Osundairo brothers in Cook County Circuit Court late Thursday night. The suit was publicly released on Friday afternoon.

The state court complaint accuses Kulis, his law firm and the Osundairos of maliciously prosecuting "baseless" claims and using Smollett's criminal case to chase their own fame.

"The sole purpose of the lawsuit was to try to keep the Osundairo brothers relevant after all criminal charges were dismissed against Mr. Smollett, to deflect from the Osundairo brothers' own criminal conduct, and to draw media attention to the defendant lawyers and law firms which are relatively unknown," the Cook County suit states.

"Yeah, I guess I just got sued," Kulis said in response to the new filing.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Law, Trials

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