Jussie Smollett Assault Case Unsealed; Ex-‘Empire’ Star Unlikely To Appeal

Dominic Patten

A Chicago judge Thursday unsealed documents connected to Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s arrest earlier this year on criminal charges.

Although Smollett got out of the 16-count indictment in late March for allegedly faking a January 29 racial and homophobic attack, Judge Steven Watkins today vehemently disagreed with the contention of the actor and his lawyers that it was necessary to keep the paperwork out of the public eye for privacy reasons.

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“Smollett voluntarily appeared on national television speaking about the incident in detail,” the Cook County Circuit Court judge said in his ruling, after media organizations requested the case be made available to the public. “After the March 26 dismissal, he voluntarily stood in front of cameras from numerous news organizations in the courthouse lobby and spoke about the case,” Watkins added in the 10-page document (read it here).

“These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply be let alone,” the judge wrote, pulling away the protection of a 2018 Illinois law that allows individuals to have their cases taken out of public view if found not guilty, or if claims are dropped.

Smollett’s lawyer Brian Watson on Thursday told local media he had to check with the actor before a decision was made whether to appeal the ruling. Representatives for Smollett did not reply to a request for comment from Deadline.

An appeal is unlikely, I hear from sources. The reason: Smollett’s team now actually wants documents on the case to go public in the hopes that the public’s generally condemning opinion of the actor will change once people look at the full picture.

Fox executives won’t say it publicly, but Smollett’s legal troubles were a great part of the reason there are “no plans” for the actor to return for the sixth and final season of Empire in the fall.

With June 3 penciled in as a date for unsealing the documents, the ruling moves everything back again to the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who will determine exactly how documents like police files and more will be doled out.

Foxx controversially recused herself from the Smollett case because of a connection with a member of the actor’s family. Yet, in a March 29 Chicago Tribune op-ed, she declared she wants the Class 4 felony case unsealed in “the interest of full transparency.”

Repeating what the prosecutor from her office on the matter said in late March, Foxx stated that just because Smollett’s case was dropped for expediency’s sake after some credit for community service and forfeiting a $10,000 bond, “he has not been exonerated; he has not been found innocent.”

Smollett is also facing a potentially near $400,000 lawsuit from the city of Chicago. Outraged, at least publicly, at Smollett’s case being dropped, the-Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent part of the last few weeks of his reign going after the performer to pay for the Chicago PD overtime and more that it cost to investigate Smollett’s initial claim he had been the victim of what was called a “hate crime.” No word if newly minted Mayor Lori Lightfoot plans to continue that legal strategy, but she hasn’t hit the brakes yet.

Add to that, Smollett’s lawyers were sued for defamation in federal court last month by brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who Chicago police said were paid by the actor to plan and coordinate the alleged fake assault on that cold Chicago early morning back in January.

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