Chicago's effort to make former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pay a six-figure civil fine for allegedly wasting police time on an alleged hoax hate-crime claim survived Tuesday, after a federal judge denied Smollett's motion to dismiss, according to The Associated Press.
Smollett's lawyers sought to have the lawsuit thrown out on multiple grounds, including that Smollett himself did not direct Chicago police to spend weeks investigating his claim and could not have known how much time and money would be spent.
In ruling, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said "it isn’t unreasonable to think" the Chicago police would make a strong effort to investigate a purported racist and homophobic attack, especially given Smollett's celebrity and the "volatile climate" of the city.
In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Virginia Kendall said “it isn’t unreasonable to think” Chicago police would have vigorously investigated #JussieSmollett’s report of a racist and homophobic attack, particularly given his celebrity and the “volatile climate” we are in.— Jason Meisner (@jmetr22b) October 22, 2019
The ruling allows the lawsuit to proceed and the case moves to the discovery phase. It could go to a civil trial by 2020.
William Quinlan, Smollett's Chicago lawyer, said in an email to USA TODAY that the ruling means the case will be "decided on the facts and not the pleadings." He said he was not surprised at the decision given that it's a "very high bar" to get a case dismissed based on the pleadings.
"The pleadings are just the city’s side of the story. Now, Mr. Smollett will get to present his side of the case," Quinlan said. "Mr. Smollett has always maintained his innocence and is eager to have the complete facts of the case come out. He looks forward to taking depositions and otherwise bringing to light many of the facts that have been overlooked in the court of public opinion to date.
"Mr. Smollett is confident that once the full story is available he will be vindicated."
Smollett claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago in January. But after several weeks of investigation, Chicago police claimed that he made the whole thing up, hiring two brothers to pretend-attack him in order to boost his profile and paycheck on "Empire."
He was indicted on 16 felony counts of filing a false police report, but prosecutors in the Cook County State's Attorney's office abruptly dropped the charges, to the surprise and loud fury of practically everybody, including the city's mayor, police chief, police unions, judges, and other state prosecutors.
Smollett continues to insist he is innocent and was exonerated. Earlier this month, he posted a comment on Instagram responding after comparisons were made on social media between Smollett and a 12-year-old Virginia girl whose family admitted she made up her claim that white students held her down and cut her dreadlocks.
“With all due respect brother, y’all can clown me all you want but my story has actually never changed and I haven’t lied about a thing,” Smollett wrote on the post. “Y’all can continue to be misinformed, internalized sheep, who believe what actual proven liars feed you or you can read the actual docs. Either way, Imma be alright. I know me and what happened. You don’t. So carry on. All Love."
But State's Attorney Kim Foxx rejected Smollett's assertion he was exonerated. She said dismissing the charges and imposing a $10,000 fine on Smollett was in line with how similar cases involving first-time offenders had been handled in the past.
Foxx is now being investigated by an independent special prosecutor for her handling of the Smollett case. Depending on what the special prosecutor finds, there is a possibility that Smollett could be charged again with staging the attack.
Meanwhile, the city of Chicago went to state court in April to sue Smollett to recoup the cost in police overtime – set at $130,000 – in investigating his original claims.
The lawsuit was later moved to federal court after Smollett's attorneys argued that is the proper venue because Smollett, who lived in Chicago while filming "Empire," is actually a California resident.
"Empire" is in its sixth and final season, and Smollett lost his role on the show shortly after the scandal hit headlines.
The city sued Smollett in civil court under a municipal code that allows the city to impose fines on people who make "false statements" to authorities, thus wasting time and money. If it prevails, the city could collect up to three times the amount of damages the city sustains as a result of the violation – in Smollett’s case, that would be $390,000.
Smollett's lawyer, Mark Geragos, responded to the city's suit with defiance. In court documents, he called the city's stance "unconstitutional," "malicious," "false and defamatory," harassment and a violation of "double jeopardy" bans.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jussie Smollett Chicago lawsuit: Actor still facing $130K civil suit