Judge orders unsealing of documents in Jussie Smollett case
CHICAGO (AP) - One of Jussie Smollett’s conditions after posting $10,000 bail amid charges he lied about being the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack was that he have no contact with two brothers police say he paid to help stage the incident, according to a case file unsealed Thursday in Chicago.
Besides that detail, the “Empire” actor’s criminal case file appears to contain little new information. The bulk of the more-than-250-page file centers on the legal battle between media organizations that wanted access to the file and Smollett’s attorneys who wanted it kept sealed.
In his order for the file to be unsealed, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins said Smollett’s actions before and after his case was dismissed did not appear to be those of someone seeking to maintain his privacy. Smollett’s lawyers had argued that since the charges were dropped, the actor had “the right to be left alone.”
Watkins’ decision, which followed requests by FOX 32 and other media organizations to make the file public, said there were good arguments for keeping the file sealed but that Smollett forfeited his right to protect his privacy by talking to the media.
The actor had been charged with 16 counts alleging he lied to police when telling them that two masked men beat him in January in downtown Chicago, shouted slurs at him, doused him with a chemical substance and looped a rope around his neck. Police still insist Smollett, who is black and gay, staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on the Fox TV show and wanted publicity.
Prosecutors dismissed all charges, though, with little explanation on March 26.
The judge on Thursday wrote that Smollett “voluntarily appeared on national television for an interview speaking about the incident in detail. 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. On several occasions, attorneys for Defendant, presumably with his authorization, appeared on various media outlets speaking about the case.”
The judge added, “These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply to be let alone.”
Natalie Spears, an attorney representing media organizations that wanted the file unsealed, applauded Watkins’ decision.
“This is about transparency and trust in the system and we believe the public has a right to know what the government did and why,” she said Thursday after the hearing.