CHICAGO – A judge said Tuesday that it will be several weeks before he decides whether to make public the court file in the Jussie Smollett case, delaying the possibility for media organizations to read it for clues about why prosecutors, without explanation, announced the decision last week to dismiss the charges against the “Empire” actor.
During a brief hearing, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins said he didn’t agree with attorneys representing media organizations, including The Associated Press, that the public’s right to see the file represented an emergency. Watkins set a schedule for motions and arguments that he said would result in his written decision in late May.
Smollett did not attend the hearing but his attorney said there was no emergency that would warrant an immediate decision.
The judge’s decision keeps the public in the dark about what prompted the Cook County State’s Attorney to drop the charges just days after securing a 16-count indictment against Smollett that alleged he staged an attack by two men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him before beating him and looping a noose around his neck.
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City officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, blasted the decision to strike a deal with the actor without any explanation. Johnson said that Smollett had chosen to “hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system.”
The decision has sparked outrage in the city and across the country. According to the filing by the media organizations, it also “put Chicago’s government and our criminal justice system squarely in the spotlight.”
In an op-ed last week for the Chicago Tribune, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said while her office’s decision to drop the charges does not exonerate Smollett, as the actor has claimed, she indicated that some of the evidence made getting a conviction “uncertain.”
Police maintain Smollett staged the attack to promote his career, and Chicago officials have ordered him to pay more than $130,000 to cover the cost of the investigation.
Media organizations said in their filing that because there was no clear explanation why prosecutors dropped the charges, even a temporary delay of the press’s First Amendment rights is harmful, and that “delaying access stifles the flow of information to the public.”