Judge sets Friday hearing on Jussie Smollett special prosecutor matter

Judge Michael Toomin seems likely to announce his pick to lead a probe of an alleged hoax hate crime and how Cook County prosecutors handled the decision to drop charges against the “Empire” actor.

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Jussie Smollett takes a selfie with a supporter as he leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Jussie Smollett snaps a selfie outside the Leightonn Criminal Court Building in March, after prosecutors dismissed charges against him in an alleged hoax hate crime. A judge this Friday may appoint a special prosecutor to review that decision, and the case against the “Empire” actor.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Two months after he ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Jussie Smollett and the controversial decision to drop criminal charges against the “Empire” actor, a Cook County judge may have picked someone to carry out the probe.

Judge Michael Toomin has set a hearing Friday morning, and with no other matters pending in the case, speculation is that Toomin has selected someone to fill the role of special prosecutor.

It remained unclear whether Toomin will name an elected prosecutor to take on the job, or if the veteran judge has deemed each of the 101 state’s attorney’s offices across the state unwilling or unable to take on the investigation. A week after announcing he would appoint a special prosecutor, Toomin sent letters to local prosecutors around the state, a step he would take only after the the state attorney general and the appellate prosecutor both had turned down the job.

Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland said in July that he had volunteered to handle the Smollett case, but received a letter from Toomin stating that the judge was looking for a prosecutor based closer to Chicago, with a larger staff.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin this month said he turned down the position, stating that he did not have staff available to take the case. Representatives from the Will and the Lake County state’s attorney’s offices did not immediately respond to queries from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Toomin’s order authorizes the special prosecutor to investigate the staged hate crime allegedly coordinated by Smolllett in January, and also probe how State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office handled the decision to abruptly drop multiple low-level felony charges against Smollett. The special prosecutor could bring new charges against Smollett, who had been charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly making false statements to police officers. Prosecutors dismissed those counts with little explanation just three weeks after Smollett was formally indicted.

In 2012, Toomin appointed a private attorney, former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, to serve as special prosecutor to investigate the 2004 death of David Koschman, who died after being punched in the face by Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The investigation that led to a grand jury indictment against Vanecko for involuntary manslaughter. Nearly 10 years after Koschman’s death, Vanecko entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

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