chicagotribune.com- Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday in a new criminal case connected to allegations he staged a hate crime on himself, even as his lawyers asked the Illinois Supreme Court for a stay and to dismiss the new indictment against him.
Smollett pleaded not guilty to six counts of disorderly conduct before Judge James Linn. The new indictment earlier this month alleged the actor best known for his now-ended role in the “Empire” TV show made four separate false reports to Chicago police in the aftermath of the Jan. 29, 2019, incident near Smollett’s residence in Chicago’s tony Streeterville neighborhood.
Smollett’s lawyers had requested a delay in the arraignment, saying they were filing paperwork with the state’s high court and a motion in Linn’s courtroom to dismiss the indictment on double-jeopardy grounds.
Linn did not delay the proceedings and instead released Smollett on his own recognizance. Linn said he expects the actor to appear for court dates during which substantive arguments will be made; it is not yet clear whether that will be the case for the next hearing March 18.
Smollett’s lawyers filed motions with the Illinois Supreme Court on Monday seeking a stay in the criminal case in Chicago, a dismissal of the indictment, and asking that a prior court order establishing lawyer Dan Webb as special prosecutor be vacated. The order “vested the special prosecutor with overly broad duties that have now resulted in a second prosecution of Mr. Smollett, on identical charges that were previously nolle prossed by the duly-elected State’s Attorney,” the motion states.
In addition, defense attorneys filed paperwork before Linn requesting that the case be tossed out since it violates Smollett’s double-jeopardy protections. However, experts previously have told the Tribune that such an effort is likely to be unsuccessful. By law, those protections only kick in when a trial has begun or a guilty plea has been entered. Neither has ever happened in Smollett’s case.
After court in Chicago, Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, told reporters Smollett is “obviously frustrated” to be back in court facing charges but he steadfastly maintains his innocence. Smollett’s legal team has said they rebuffed attempts to work out a plea deal last year, and indicated Monday that would not change.
“I’m confident that he’s not entering any plea other than a not guilty plea,” Glandian said.
Smollett arrived Monday with an entourage. As they walked silently up the courthouse steps, several cameramen tripped as they backed up, creating a small pileup. Smollett did not respond to questions shouted by reporters as he made his way into court.
After two false starts, Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. announced that Smollett’s case was assigned to Judge Linn, a courthouse veteran with a spacious seventh-floor courtroom.
Linn was the third judge selected to hear Smollett’s case. The first two selected via a random generator, William Gamboney and Diane Gordon Cannon, both happened to be out sick Monday, Martin said.
“I want a judge that’s here,” he said.
Before his case was assigned to Linn, Smollett sat ramrod-straight in the gallery next to his supporters during a recess, including his sister, actor Jurnee Smollett-Bell.
Across the packed courtroom gallery sat brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, key prosecution witnesses who told police Smollett paid them to stage the attack. The defense has, in turn, accused them of actually beating Smollett and then lying to police about what happened.
Gloria Schmidt, who represents the Osundairo brothers, said they came to court to “support the process” and indicated that they would also be observing future court dates — a highly unusual move for such key witnesses.
The brothers have been truthful throughout the process, including in recent interviews with the special prosecutor’s office, Schmidt said.
Smollett left the courthouse shortly after 11:30 a.m. Monday without addressing reporters. As news helicopters hovered overhead, his entourage pushed past a crush of camera crews and into a waiting black SUV.
Cook County prosecutors dropped the first case against the actor with little explanation in a highly controversial move that has cast a long shadow over the upcoming primary race for state’s attorney.
After a judge found that Smollett’s first prosecution was invalid, Webb was appointed to determine whether the actor should again face charges. On Feb. 11, his special grand jury indicted Smollett on new counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told police he was attacked by two men as he was walking home after getting a sandwich at a Subway restaurant. The men shouted slurs, poured bleach or a similar substance on him and hung a noose around his neck, he told officers.
But the actor, best known for his now-ended role on the Fox TV show, eventually turned from victim to suspect, and in a twist, police said that the entire incident was a hoax and that Smollett actually staged the assault from start to finish to bolster his career.
In bringing the new charges earlier this month, Webb said he considered “the extensive nature” of Smollett’s falsehoods, the massive amount of time and money Chicago police put into the investigation, and the strength of the evidence cited by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s own prosecutors in bringing the original charges, according to a news release.
Not only did prosecutors drop charges without requiring Smollett to admit guilt, but he also left the courtroom that day having been given credit for two days of community service he had already performed, and he paid no restitution except forfeiting $10,000 in bond money — less than 10% of the approximately $130,000 the police spent on overtime in the case, Webb noted.
Webb was appointed to his post by Cook County Judge Michael Toomin in August with a broad mandate to probe every aspect of the Smollett case, including whether to bring further charges against the actor. He impaneled a grand jury late last year that has been hearing evidence from Webb’s law offices at Winston & Strawn.
By the time the 2019 charges were brought, Foxx said she had recused herself from overseeing the prosecution after revealing she had contact with a member of Smollett’s family early in the investigation at the request of Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
Foxx declined to provide details at the time, but communications later made public showed Foxx had asked then-Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to turn over the investigation to the FBI after she was approached by Tchen, a politically connected lawyer, about the case.
But other communications released to the Tribune after public-records requests showed Foxx claiming she recused herself because of false rumors that she was related to the actor, not any communications she’d had with his relatives.
Foxx also termed as “bull—-” the explanation her own office gave for her withdrawal at the time, the texts show.
After the charges were abruptly dropped, Sheila O’Brien, a retired Illinois appellate judge, petitioned Toomin to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the handling of the investigation. After extensive legal arguments last summer, Toomin ruled that Foxx had the right to withdraw herself from overseeing the prosecution but held no legal authority to then delegate that responsibility to her top deputy.