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Records in Jussie Smollett case to be unsealed, judge rules

On the same day the charges were dismissed in late March, Smollett's defense team requested that the evidence and records in the case be immediately sealed.
Image: Jussie Smollett
Actor Jussie Smollett talks to the media before leaving Cook County Court on March 26, 2019, in Chicago.Paul Beaty / AP file

An Illinois judge Thursday ordered Jussie Smollett's criminal case file be unsealed.

Smollett was accused of filing a false police report claiming he was the victim of a hate crime attack carried out by two men on a city street in January, but less than three weeks after being indicted on 16 felony counts, Chicago prosecutors dropped all charges against the actor.

On the same day the charges were dismissed in late March, Smollett's defense team requested that the evidence and records in the case be immediately sealed, and the state did not object, according to court documents.

Lawyers for media outlets argued that the sealing of the records "violates the public's right of access to court records and proceedings" and "the matter has been widely publicized and the defendant and his attorneys have appeared on national television discussing the case," Thursday's decision document said.

Meanwhile, Smollett's lawyers countered that the actor has "the right to be left alone," and noted that the media had ample time to access the records regarding the case before they were sealed, the document said.

"To be sure, it is easily conceivable that a defendant whose case was dismissed would wish to maintain his sense of privacy, even if, perhaps especially if, the media covered the case," Judge Steven G. Watkins wrote in the decision. "However, that isn't that case."

"While the court appreciates that the defendant was in the public eye before the events that precipitated this case, it was not necessary for him to address this so publicly and to such an extent. By doing so, the court cannot credit his privacy interest as good cause to keep the case records sealed," the decision said.

On Jan. 29, Smollett filed a report with the Chicago Police Department saying two masked men hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him before beating him, putting a noose around his neck and pouring what he thought was bleach on him. The actor, who was a star of the show "Empire" at the time, is black and gay, and police began investigating the incident as a hate crime.

When a lack of video evidence and Smollett's initial refusal to turn over his phone records caused some people to doubt his version of events, he appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" to defend his story. "I want that video found so badly," he said. "I want them to stop being able to say 'alleged attack.'"

On Feb. 20, police said Smollett's report was false, and he was charged with felony disorderly conduct. He was indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report March 8, and those charges were abruptly dropped March 26.

It's unclear when the case records will be unsealed. Smollett's lawyers had no comment Thursday.