Jussie Smollett’s lawyers want to move Chicago lawsuit to federal court

Chicago is suing “Empire” actor for $130,000 in overtime paid to cops who investigated his hate crime case — an attack police say he coordinated.

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Actor Jussie Smollett listens as his attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday morning, March 26, 2019.

| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Lawyers for Jussie Smollett want a federal judge to preside over a lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago that seeks to recover more than $130,000 in police overtime costs incurred during the investigation of a fake hate crime allegedly orchestrated by the “Empire” actor.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Smollett’s lawyers argue that the actor is a California resident, which justifies moving the city’s lawsuit from Cook County Circuit Court to the federal courthouse in Chicago.

The city filed the lawsuit under then Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had blasted the actor for allegedly making a false report that he had been attacked near his Streeterville home by two men who taunted the openly gay, African American actor with racist and homophobic slurs. Smollett was later charged with making a false police report.

But then State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office abruptly dropped the disorderly conduct charges against Smollett in late March, and the city filed a lawsuit against Smollett two weeks later, demanding the actor pay back the money the police spent on overtime for officers involved in the investigation.

Federal court might be a more friendly venue for Smollett, who might still end up facing criminal charges in Cook County after a county judge’s decision last month to appoint a special prosecutor to re-investigate the hate crime case and how Foxx and her staff handled the decision to drop the charges.

The city’s lawsuit had been pending in front of Judge James Snyder.

In the opening lines of his order on the appointment of a special prosecutor, veteran Judge Michael Toomin made no bones about what he thought happened the night of Jan. 29, 2019, when Smollett first contacted police and set in motion and “unprecedented” psychodrama that captivated the city and a national audience.

“The principal character, Jussie Smollett, is an acclaimed actor known to the public from his performances in the television series, ‘Empire.’ But his talents were not destined to be confined to that production,” Toomin wrote. “Rather, in perhaps the most prominent display of his acting potential, Smollett conceived a fantasy that propelled him from the role of a sympathetic victim of vicious homophobic attack to that of a charlatan who fomented a hoax the equal of any twist television intrigue.”

Smollett’s lawyers, Mark Geragos and Tina Glandian, have been sued for defamation in federal court by Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — brothers who claim Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.

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