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No cameras at Smollett trial next month, judge rules as he denies ‘Empire’ actor’s latest attempt to dismiss charges

Judge James Linn said he expects to start jury selection in the case and hear arguments starting Nov. 29.

Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge Friday said cameras won’t be allowed in the courtroom at Jussie Smollett’s upcoming jury trial in November and denied the latest attempt by the former “Empire” actor’s attorneys to get the case dismissed.

Judge James Linn denied a request for extended media coverage, saying there would be “no cameras of any sort” allowed in the courtroom for Smollett’s trial, which is expected to start Nov. 29.

The judge did not provide an explanation for his decision during the hearing.

Linn also denied a motion to dismiss the case after Smollett attorney Nenye Uche said it should be thrown out because of a prior agreement between his client and the state’s attorney’s office that the charges against him would be dropped if he paid a fine and did community service — which Uche argued the actor had done.

In January 2019, Smollett, who is Black and gay, claimed he was jumped by two masked white men who shouted homophobic and racist slurs while punching him and pulling a thin rope noose over his head on his way home from a Subway restaurant.

He was later accused of making a false report to Chicago police and was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying about being attacked. But weeks later, prosecutors suddenly announced they would be dropping the charges.

Nearly a year later, Smollett was indicted again by Special Prosecutor Dan Webb, who has criticized Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to dismiss the initial charges.

On Friday, Uche argued the Office of the Special Prosecutor was still bound to agreements Smollett made with the state’s attorney’s office because Webb was representing the county in the case.

Uche warned “the floodgates would open” if public outcry over decisions made by the state’s attorney’s office led to such agreements being undone by the appointment of a special prosecutor. Citizens of the county angered by the decision had other recourse, such as voting for a new state’s attorney, Uche said.

“Judge, that is very dangerous,” Uche said about that agreement having been thrown out when Webb was appointed by Judge Michael Toomin. “A deal is a deal. That’s an ancient principle. ... How in the world are we here today?” Uche added.

Linn said he agreed Smollett’s case was a “unique circumstance” but said Toomin had ruled clearly that the prior proceedings were effectively void because of issues with Foxx’s earlier recusal in the case and denied the defense’s motion.

Smollett’s lawyers made a similar argument to dismiss the case in June last year, saying Smollett couldn’t be charged again because of double jeopardy.

Linn denied that motion then, saying the agreement Smollett reached with prosecutors in 2019 was not considered punishment, because the actor never admitted wrongdoing.