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Smollett case files remain sealed, actor has not yet sought expungement

Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Records in Jussie Smollett’s criminal case remain sealed to the public, and the actor has not sought to expunge the case in the two days since Cook County prosecutors dropped all charges against him in an alleged hoax hate-crime attack.

Lawyers for media organizations on Thursday got a lecture from Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. on state laws on the sealing of criminal records and the Criminal Division chief’s schedule for expungement hearings. The media groups have petitioned the court to allow them to get notification of developments in the case amid rumors that the “Empire” actor’s records were going to be fully expunged.

Reporters scrambled to make it to an abruptly scheduled “emergency” hearing in Smollet’s case on Tuesday, where the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dismissed 16 counts of disorderly conduct against the actor, with prosecutors citing his agreement to forfeit $10,000 he had posted toward his bond to the city and completion of community service. Employees with the clerk’s office wouldn’t give reporters access to the files after the hearing and records of the case were deleted from the clerk’s computer system by Wednesday morning.

TIMELINE: The Jussie Smollett investigation

Media swarmed the courthouse again Wednesday based on a rumor that Smollett’s lawyers planned to ask for his case expunged. Thursday morning, at a hearing called to discuss reporters’ request to intervene in Smollett’s expungement hearing, Martin pointed out that Smollett had not yet asked the court to expunge his records. Smollett’s lawyers affirmed they had not filed a motion to expunge, and may not.

“We support the court files being preserved. We have not and will not file a motion for destruction of any records in this case,” Smollett’s attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said in a statement.

Martin balked at a request from media lawyer Natalie Spears that he order the state’s attorney to notify news organizations of any developments in Smollett’s expungement but invited the assembled reporters to attend the twice-weekly hearings where he handles expungements.

“It’s a public forum. It’s a public place . . . everyone and anyone is welcome to come here,” Martin said.

“There’s nothing nefarious, nothing lurking in the shadows. It’s a public proceeding.”

Martin took the opportunity to read off the text of state laws that allow for “immediate sealing” of criminal cases that have been closed out and to assure that no records in the case would be destroyed.

Martin said he handles thousands of expungement requests each year and said it typically takes more seven to eight months for him to make a ruling, and that the law allows 60 days for interested parties to protest the expungement.

A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Wednesday the office believed that only records of Smollett’s arrest were to be sealed, under an order granted at Tuesday’s hearing.

Staff in the clerk’s office have said no portion of the file is available to the public and computer records of the case have been wiped from the system.