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On Thursday, a Chicago judge ruled in favor of a collection of media outlets who requested court documents and investigation records related to “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s alleged fake hate crime, unsealing Smollett’s case file and granting reporters access to the full trove.
The Chicago Sun-Times — one of the papers requesting access to the Smollett file — reported that the Cook County judge, Steven Watkins, ordered the documents unsealed because Smollett and his attorneys had “not shown good cause to rebut the public presumption of access.”
Smollett’s case files were sealed in the same hearing where the Cook County States Attorney announced that they would drop 17 felony counts against the “Empire” actor in return for approximately 16 hours of community service and a $10,000 check — the “down payment” Smollett left with the court when he was let out on bond.
Smollett was, of course, not required to admit that he was guilty of orchestrating an alleged “hate attack” on himself that took place in the early hours of January 29. The 17 charges stem from two interactions Smollett had with police following the attack, and Smollett was hit with one felony count of obstructing justice for each statement made to investigators that a grand jury believed was a lie.
It’s Smollett’s actions in the wake of the “deal” with prosecutors that seem to have convinced Judge Watkins to allow the Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and others access to the full case file, including an interview Smollett gave proclaiming his own innocence, shortly after his appearance in court.
“Smollett voluntarily appeared on national television speaking about the incident in detail,” Watkins said. “After the March dismissal, he stood in front of numerous cameras… in the courthouse lobby speaking about the case.”
“These are not the actions of a person seeking simply to maintain his privacy or simply to be let alone,” Watkins added.
Watkins did not accept Smollett’s attorneys’ arguments that their client was entitled to a “right to privacy,” adding that the public interest, in this case, outweighed the need to keep the documents sealed.
The court did not give a timeline, Thursday, for when the Smollett case files would be released or what they would contain. The Chicago Police Department has already released a number of documents related to their investigation into whether Smollett was involved in his own attack, but the court file will likely cover what was given to the prosecutor’s office and contain documents filed in relation to Smollett’s alleged “plea deal.”
Although the actor himself has sort of faded from the limelight since the case concluded — the show “Empire” will run for one more season, but Smollett’s character will not return — the Smollett case exposed a series of bizarre policies at work inside the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. In addition to what appears to be preferred treatment given to Smollett, a celebrity, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is now accused of agreeing to lenient sentences in a variety of cases, in the name of a more “progressive” approach to justice.
In one case, Foxx’s office appears to have allowed a violent offender to end his own probation and house arrest simply by disabling his ankle monitor. That offender then went on to murder an off-duty Chicago police officer and severely wound another.