Judge orders file in Jussie Smollett criminal case unsealed

CHICAGO — A judge in Chicago ordered the file in Jussie Smollett’s criminal case unsealed Thursday, saying the actor’s actions did not appear to be those of someone seeking to maintain his privacy.

The order by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins follows requests by The Associated Press and other media organizations to make the file public. Watkins said that while there are good arguments for keeping the file sealed, Smollett forfeited his right to protect his privacy by talking to the media before and after prosecutors dismissed the charges against him.

The file wasn’t immediately released.

The “Empire” actor had been charged with 16 counts alleging he lied to police when reporting he’d been the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in January. Police insist Smollett, who is black and gay, staged the incident because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity.

Prosecutors dismissed all charges, though, with little explanation on March 26.

Smollett’s lawyers had argued that since the case was dropped, Smollett had “the right to be left alone.” The judge disagreed.

Smollett “voluntarily appeared on national television for an interview speaking about the incident in detail,” the judge wrote. “After the March 26 dismissal, he voluntarily stood in front of cameras from numerous news organizations in the courthouse lobby and spoke about the case. On several occasions, attorneys for defendant, presumably with his authorization, appeared on various media outlets speaking about the case.”

The judge added, “These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply to be let alone.”

Natalie Spears, an attorney representing media organizations that wanted the file unsealed, applauded Watkins’ decision Thursday.

“This is about transparency and trust in the system and we believe the public has a right to know what the government did and why,” she said after the hearing.

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