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Lawyers: No ‘celebrity justice’ for Smollett, actor was treated ‘far worse’

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

Lawyers for Jussie Smollett say the “Empire” actor did not benefit from “celebrity justice,” and that Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors treated him “far worse” than the average Joe after he reported an alleged hate crime earlier this year.

And now that charges alleging he faked the attack have been dropped, Smollett wants records in the case to remain sealed, according to a motion filed Tuesday.

“While there have been allegations of ‘celebrity justice’ or preferential treatment in this case, in fact, Mr. Smollett was treated far worse than, not better, than your ordinary citizen,” Smollett’s Los Angeles-based attorney, Mark Geragos wrote in a motion opposing media organizations’ request to have records in Smollett’s case unsealed.

All court records in Smollett’s case were sealed last month at the same unannounced court hearing at which prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against the actor less than three weeks after a grand jury handed him a 16-count indictment for making false reports to police investigators. In addition to court files, the sealing order has been used as grounds to deny records requests from the media by both the police and the state’s attorney’s office. News organizations, including the Chicago Sun-Times, have petitioned the court to make all records in the case public.

A state law, adopted a little over a year ago, allows defendants to request case records be sealed immediately after charges against them are dropped or they are acquitted. Smollett’s case records were removed from the court’s electronic database within hours of his case being dismissed. Smollett has not yet requested his records be expunged by the courts, a process that would briefly make the files public again, and the judge that presided over his case has yet to rule on the media request.

“If he had been treated as an ordinary citizen, Mr. Smollett would likely never have been charged with any crimes,” Geragos wrote, beginning a litany of other events in which Smollett was publicly denounced — before he was charged, and again after the case was dismissed — by prosecutors, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In an unorthodox deal that prompted harsh criticism of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office, Smollett forfeited $10,000 he had posted for bond and provided proof he had done a few hours of community service over two days at Rainbow/PUSH. Foxx, who recused herself from the case because she had conversations with a relative of Smollett when the actor was considered a victim — and not a suspect — compared the handling of the case to thousands of “alternative prosecutions” given to non-violent offenders.

Smollett left the courthouse last month maintaining his innocence, though he since has been sued by the city of Chicago to recover the $130,000 in overtime paid out to police who spent weeks investigating his case. Two brothers who allegedly were paid to stage the attack this week filed a defamation lawsuit against Geragos and his partner, Tina Glandian, saying they smeared their reputations.

In their latest filing, Smollett’s lawyers say that the actor wasn’t involved in the alleged hoax, and deserves privacy now that his case is over. Smollett, they said, didn’t even want to call police in the first place, and asked them to shut off body cameras before entering his apartment the night of the attack “in an effort to maintain some degree of privacy.”

The defense attorneys also imply Smollett is facing unspecified threats to his “physical safety.”

“(Now) that the charges against him have been fully dismissed, he would like to try to resume a normal life without details about his private life being disclosed to the entire world, particularly at a time when his physical safety is in grave danger,” Geragos wrote.