A Chicago judge ordered the criminal case file against actor Jussie Smollett be unsealed on Thursday, two months after prosecutors abruptly dropped charges that accused Smollett of staging a false hate crime against himself.
Cook County Judge Steven Watkins dismissed Smollett’s plea to keep the information sealed to protect his privacy. The judge said privacy did not seem to be an issue to the actor or his lawyers, who have frequently spoken publicly about the case.
Smollett “voluntarily appeared on national television speaking about the incident in detail,” Watkins noted in his 10-page ruling.
After the 16-count indictment against Smollett was dismissed, he “voluntarily stood in front of cameras from numerous news organizations in the courthouse lobby and spoke about the case. These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply be let alone,” the judge added.
Natalie Spears, the attorney for several media organizations, including The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune, 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 here and why,” said Spears.
Smollett hasn’t yet responded to the ruling. His attorney Brian Watson said he will discuss a possible appeal with Smollett.
Little new information on the case was released, The Chicago Tribune reported. But Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, who came under fire for the dropped case against Smollett, said more documents will be available June 3.
Smollett reported to Chicago police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 29. In the police report, he claimed that two masked men had wrapped a rope around his neck, poured a liquid on him and yelled homophobic slurs. He said the men also shouted “MAGA country!”
But following an investigation, authorities determined Smollett had staged the attack for publicity. He was arrested in February and charged with filing a false report.
The indictment against Smollett was dropped in late March, though the state attorney’s office said it continued to stand behind the findings of its investigation. Then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized prosecutors for dropping the charges, calling it a “whitewash of justice” that let the actor off because of his fame.
Last month, the city sued Smollett for $130,000 to cover the cost of investigating a false hate crime report. 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.
Smollett has continued to insist that he was the victim of an attack.
In the wake of the controversy, Smollett is not expected to appear in the sixth and final season of “Empire.”