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Judge wants to know: Jussie Smollett gets a break, so why not Home Depot worker?

Candace Clark, 21, of Hoffman Estates, is charged with felony disorderly conduct. The judge handling her case recently blasted prosecutors for giving "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett a break on a similar charge, but not Clark. | Photo provided.

Candace Clark’s disorderly conduct case looked to be heading for a quick, tidy resolution: If she paid back the money she owed, held down a job and showed up for court dates — among other things — then the prosecutor would dismiss the charges.

The case, in a Rolling Meadows courtroom earlier this month, would end like countless others for first-time offenders. But first, the judge had something to say.

“I’d like to know why Ms. Clark is being treated differently than Jussie Smollett,” asked Cook County Judge Marc Martin. “It’s a disorderly conduct case [false] reporting — a lot less egregious than Mr. Smollett’s case. I have a problem with it. Why is she being treated differently?”

Martin, according to transcripts from the April 11 hearing, was referring to how the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in March abruptly dropped a disorderly conduct charge against the “Empire” actor — without any formal conditions.

“I was very shocked. I was ecstatic,” said Clark, 21, who lives in Hoffman Estates and works the overnight shift taking care of plants and unloading freight at Home Depot. Clark was back in court Thursday, with her public defender able to convince Martin to give her client two more weeks to possibly resolve the case, first reported by Fox 32 Chicago.

Clark, like Smollett, was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report — on Oct. 30, 2018, in a case without publicity that allegedly involved check forgery.

On April 11, just before Martin expressed his astonishment at Clark’s treatment, the prosecutor assigned to the case had filled out paperwork for a “deferred prosecution,” which would have required Clark to pay back approximately $2,500 — as well as attend periodic court hearings, get a G.E.D. and either show proof of a job or do community service, said Wendy Schilling, Clark’s assistant public defender.

“I appreciate that they offered it, but it’s just so many more things she has to do that’s going to work against her, instead of helping her,” Schilling said after Thursday’s brief court hearing.

But Clark never signed off on the deal, after Martin repeatedly blasted the way prosecutors were handling her case relative to Smollett’s.

The prosecutor handling the case on April 11, Allison Kudzy, told Martin “each case is reviewed individually based on the facts, the investigation and the position of the victims in this case.”

Kudzy’s words didn’t satisfy Martin.

“Well, Ms. Clark is not a movie star, she doesn’t have a high-price lawyer, although, her lawyer is very good,” Martin said at one point during the hearing. “And this smells, big time. I didn’t create this mess, your office created this mess. And your explanation is unsatisfactory to this court. She’s being treated differently.”

Martin said he wanted both sides to “take a step back and reevaluate the situation.”

Citing “pending litigation,” Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, had no comment.

On Thursday, Clark, who makes $12 an hour and is engaged to be married, said she just wants the case to go away. She also said she wishes she had what Smollett has.

“He has money and I don’t,” Clark said. “He can pay for a lawyer, and I can’t.”

She’s due back in court May 15.