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Judge sets date for ruling on whether to unseal records in Jussie Smollett case

Jussie Smollett| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge Thursday set May 23 as the expected date for when he will decide whether to unseal records in Jussie Smollett’s criminal case.

Media groups have petitioned Judge Steven Watkins to unseal case files in the “Empire” actor’s case, which were pulled from the public record within hours of the March hearing where prosecutors abruptly announced they were dismissing all 16 counts of felony disorderly charges against Smollett.

The move — allowed under a law that took effect in 2018, placed “all criminal records” related to Smollett’s case under seal. It also prompted Chicago police to refuse requests for investigative reports.

Smollett, accused of staging a hate crime, has argued against unsealing the records. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has been widely criticized for the unorthodox handling of Smollett’s case, has said she did not want the records sealed, but in court has asked Watkins to unseal the records only so they can be turned over to county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, who is investigating how Foxx’s office handled the case.

Blanchard said the delay in releasing the records would not stall his investigation, which already is under way.

Retired Appeals Court Judge Sheila O’Brien has also petitioned to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Smollett and examine how the state’s attorney’s office handled the case and Foxx’s recusal. O’Brien’s petition hearing is set for Friday in front of Chief Criminal Court Judge Leroy K. Martin Jr.