Let’s hope Chicago can now turn the page on the Jussie Smollett saga

Smollett’s jail sentence is excessive, but he brought it on himself. Most important, let’s hope we never hear again about “substantial abuses of discretion” from the state’s attorney’s office.

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Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for his sentencing hearing, Thursday, March 10, 2022 in Chicago. Smollett, who is expected to continue to deny his role in the staged attack in January 2019, faces up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.

Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for his sentencing hearing, Thursday, March 10, 2022 in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It was hardly the crime of the century, though you wouldn’t know it from the time it took to finally sentence Jussie Smollett on Thursday.

But when Smollett decided to lie to Chicago police about being targeted in a racist and homophobic attack, he set off a chain of events that became more dramatic than any plot twist on his hit TV show.

We hope Smollett’s sentencing will finally bring an end to the saga. Chicago’s attention should be focused on much more urgent matters, such as ending gun violence and recovering from the pandemic.

The “Empire” actor’s sentencing for disorderly conduct should rightfully cap off this infamous case that has drawn more attention than hundreds of other cases involving far more serious crimes.

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With his dark sunglasses and entourage in tow, Smollett turned heads for his good looks and Hollywood style every time he set foot into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. He also brought a spotlight back to the unorthodox handling of his case by Cook County State’s Attorney’s Kim Foxx’s office back in 2019.

After a hearing that lasted 5 1/2 hours, Judge James Linn sentenced Smollett to 150 days in jail and 30 months probation, and ordered him to pay over $120,000 in restitution to the City of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.

The jail time is excessive, in our view, given Smollett’s lack of a criminal record. But Smollett’s refusal to take responsibility, his arrogance and his defiant testimony during his trial probably helped land him behind bars.

After Smollett was sentenced, Foxx defended her handling of the case once again, saying her office’s decision to initially drop charges against the actor was not unusual.

Many reporters and attorneys who have spent years at the criminal courthouse beg to differ.

Lawyer David Gaeger, who happened to be in the courtroom the day the state’s attorney’s office dismissed the charges, previously told the Sun-Times, “I can tell you that the hundreds of clients I have facing similar charges have never gotten the kind of deal Jussie Smollett got.”

In the past, Foxx’s office has said there are thousands of other non-violent offenders who have entered similar “alternative prosecution” agreements.

That may be so.

But were those individuals allowed to never admit wrongdoing like Smollett?

How many other low-level offenders have had family friends text Foxx to air their concerns about a police investigation, as former Michelle Obama aide Tina Tchen did in the beginning of the case, when Smollett was still considered a victim of a hate crime?

How many had their relatives communicate with Foxx, like acclaimed actress Jurnee Smollett did well after her brother was recharged by Special Prosecutor Dan Webb?

As Linn summed it up, the decision by Foxx’s office to drop charges against Smollett put public confidence in the county’s criminal justice system at “risk” and caused “great confusion and misunderstanding.”

Thursday was an opportune moment for Foxx to assure the public that the ethical and procedural lapses outlined in Webb’s 60-page report wouldn’t be repeated. That didn’t happen. The least Foxx’s constituents can hope for now is that she privately reflects on what her office did wrong.

Yet there is no doubt some of the outrage directed at Foxx was over the top.

Some right-wing officials used the missteps of the state’s attorney’s office as an excuse to attack Foxx and the progress she has made on much-needed criminal justice reform since she was first elected in 2016.

But tune out the bullhorns and there’s the sound of thoughtful, intelligent criticism, coming even from some of Foxx’s most ardent supporters.

That criticism centers on very real issues — the erosion of trust, perception of favoritism and a lack of transparency — that undermine the work Foxx’s office has done to make justice in Cook County fairer and more equitable.

Those who have a distaste for Foxx’s excuses and denials about the Smollett case are rightly troubled because prosecutorial errors are unacceptable. Mistakes in lesser cases open the door to questions about how often other, more serious cases are being handled poorly, even bungled.

Smollett’s name will no doubt continue to surface in Chicago. His attorneys have appealed his conviction. There is a pending lawsuit against him by the City of Chicago. The two brothers Smollett recruited to stage the faux ambush have sued the actor in a civil lawsuit.

At some point, let’s hope Smollett comes clean about what he did. If he can revive his career, he should focus solely on acting on a set, not in real life.

And far more important, let’s hope we never hear again about “substantial abuses of discretion,” as Webb wrote in his report, from the state’s attorney’s office.

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