CHICAGO — A Cook County judge Thursday ordered records in Jussie Smollett’s criminal case be unsealed, after WGN News and other media organizations filed lawsuits calling for them to be released.
“This is about transparency and trust in the system,” media attorney Natalie Spears said. “We believe the public has a right to know what the government did here and why.”
Attorneys for Smollett, 36, previously succeeded in sealing the records by citing the actor’s right to privacy. But the order issued by Judge Steven Watkins Thursday said those rights were trumped when Smollett’s legal team conducted multiple interviews.
“These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply to be let alone,” Watkins wrote.
Now, two months after Cook County prosecutors’ stunning and controversial decision to drop all charges against the former “Empire” star, the files in the case will be released.
After the judge’s order, the court clerk released 192 pages detailing legal procedures and court filings. Among them were Smollett’s arrest report and a receipt for the $9,900 bond he paid.
The ruling paves the way for even more details to be made public once the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Chicago Police Department release documents and investigative materials in coming days.
The case made headlines across the country when Smollett reported to police that he had been attacked by two men in an an apparent hate crime in January, saying his attackers used racial, homophobic language and even invoked President Trump’s campaign slogan.
After investigating, prosecutors alleged Smollett paid to have two brothers stage the attack. Police said the actor was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career. Smollett has maintained his innocence.
The unsealed file shows a grand jury that reviewed the case concluded: “There was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed.”
Smollett was criminally indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false report, but prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett in late March.
After the judge’s order unsealing the case file, police union president Kevin Graham demanded accountability.
“Whether they are prosecutors or defendants that people answer for the things they have been accused of and certainly we at FOP have done our part to see that the light of justice is shown on this case,” Graham said.
Since charges were dropped, there have been multiple requests to investigate Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the case.
Former Judge Shelia O’Brien is calling for a special prosecutor to look into the matter.
“Today’s ruling opening the court file is a good first step, but more needs to be done,” O’Brien said Thursday.
Foxx’s office released a statement Thursday afternoon:
“State’s Attorney Foxx is pleased to be able to provide the public with even greater transparency in this matter than was previously possible because of the sealing order. A review of the documents is currently underway and the State’s Attorney’s Office will release the documents related to this case through a FOIA production by June 3, 2019.”
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