A Cook County, Illinois, judge ruled Friday that a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate how Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx’s office handled actor Jussie Smollett’s hate crime case and indicated the former “Empire” star might yet face criminal charges.
In his ruling, Judge Michael Toomin wrote, “The unprecedented irregularities identified in this case warrants the appointment of independent counsel to restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
CBS News Chicago affiliate WBBM-TV reported the prosecutor could choose to bring new charges against Smollett, if “reasonable grounds” are found to do so in “the interest of justice.”
Judge Toomin: “…the unprecedented irregularities identified in this case warrants the appointment of an independent counsel to restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of our criminal system.” @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/GG4unp0HeY
— Megan Hickey (@MeganHickeyTV) June 21, 2019
Toomin also ruled that Foxx had no authority to appoint her top deputy, First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, to oversee the case after announcing she would be recusing herself from the matter due to her contacts with Smollett’s family.
“What causes concerns is that she appointed him to an entity that had and has no legal existence. There is no office of acting state’s attorney,” the judge said.
“Here, the ship of the State ventured from its protected harbor without the guiding hand of its captain. There was no master on the bridge to guide the ship as it floundered through unchartered waters,” Toomin wrote. “And it ultimately lost its bearings.”
At a news conference March 26, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stood by his investigators’ findings that Smollett committed a “hoax” when he filed a police report Jan. 29 claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.
The actor, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, alleged he was attacked by two men who put a noose around his neck. He claimed at least one of the two was white and yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office had announced earlier that day that it was dropping all 16 felony counts against Smollett relating to filing a false police report and said the record of the case would be sealed. Smollett faced the possibility of serving years in jail.
Magats told reporters that the 36-year-old actor would only have to do community service and had agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bail to the city. The assistant state’s attorney characterized the agreement as a fair and just outcome in the case.
Johnson disagreed, telling reporters later in the day that he did not think justice was served and that Smollett owed the city an apology.
Then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid into the actor at the same news conference for claiming to be innocent.
“This is a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel said. “A grand jury could not have been clearer.”
“Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent,” the Democrat added. “Still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare him? How dare him?”
Emanuel said the $10,000 did not even come close to paying the cost to the city of investigating Smollett’s alleged hate crime attack, which ultimately resulted in a multicount indictment against the actor.
On Friday, retired appellate court Judge Sheila O’Brien, who had requested a special prosecutor in the case, described Toomin’s ruling as “a good day for justice.”
Foxx issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying, “I am pleased that the court agreed there was no conflict of interest here. Regarding recusal, I followed the advice and counsel of my then Chief Ethics Officer. In any event, I respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusion that, in the absence of any conflict, the appointment of a special prosecutor is required.”
Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department, tweeted in response to Toomin’s decision: “We stand firmly behind the work of detectives in investigating the fabricated incident reported by Jussie Smollett & #ChicagoPolice will fully cooperate with the court appointed special prosecutor.”
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