Defamation, or fame? Brothers’ lawsuit against Jussie Smollett lawyer moves forward, while Smollett’s lawyers sue brothers
Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo claim they were damaged by a lawyer’s remarks on national TV. Another lawyer claims the brothers are trying to profit off their involvement in Smollett hoax.
The two brothers who played a starring role in Jussie Smollett’s hoax hate crime have claimed that slurs and innuendos from Smollett’s lawyers made them infamous. And Smollett’s lawyers claim brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo tried to translate their infamy into cash.
A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Osundairos’ defamation case against Smollett attorney Tina Glandian can go forward, while dismissing all but one of the defamation claims.
Thursday, Glandian’s law firm filed a lawsuit, claiming the Osundairos and their legal team have tried to profit from suing Glandian and her partner, Mark Geragos, and that the brothers attempted capitalize on their links to the Smollett case, including selling an NFT image of the crime scene after Smollett was found guilty and releasing a song on the day Smollett was sentenced.
“We have spelled out in minute detail the grift that went on,” Geragos said Friday. “I look forward to holding everyone involved accountable.”
The Osundairos have argued that Smollett’s defense team sought to represent them as violent and homophobic, and that a beatdown Smollett paid them to deliver in 2019 was a real assault. A jury in December found that Smollett staged the hate crime as a publicity stunt, and falsely reported it as a crime to police.
With the case set to proceed, the Osundairos’ legal team expects to subpoena both Glandian and Smollett for depositions, attorney Gregory Kulis said.
“There are a few questions I would like to ask of Mr. Smollett,” Kulis said Friday.
Geragos’ suit targets Kulis and four other lawyers representing the Osundairos in the defamation case, claim their public statements before Smollett’s — mostly remarks made by attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez — damaged the actors bid for a fair trial. Though Geragos and his firm both were dismissed as defendants in the defamation case, the litigation imposed expenses and did reputational damage.
“This complaint is absurd — in substance and merit — and nothing more than a second bite at the apple wanting a remedy that the Federal Court already denied,” Rodriguez said in an email. “We look forward to a swift resolution in our favor.”
The brothers were star witnesses for the prosecution at Smollett’s trial on disorderly conduct charges last year, testifying that Smollett in 2019 paid them to don red baseball caps, shout racist, homophobic slurs and rough him up.
The brothers’ attorneys have said that they have been ashamed by their role in the Smollett hoax and their reputations tarnished by their experience, but the lawsuit points to several apparent attempts by the Osundairos to capitalize — and seemingly make light of — their ordeal.
On Instagram, the brothers offered “MAGA” hats, with the first A replaced by a silhouette of the continent of Africa, for sale for $60 — an apparent reference to Smollett’s ordering them to shout “this is MAGA country” as they fled from the phony beating.
The lawsuit also says the Osundairos are behind www.nigerianbrothersnft.com, a website touting the future sale of “nearly 10,000” non-fungible tokens — digital commodities often called NFTs.
An image posted to the website that appears to be one of the “collection” that will be sold sometime this summer, a cartoon that combines various locations from the hoax — the Crafty Beaver hardware store where the brothers bought supplies; a “Subday” restaurant that Smollett was returning from when he was attacked — onto the corner at the intersection where the attack took place. A bank clock in the illustration shows the time and temperature as 2:04 and -17 degrees, the time the attack took place on a frigid night in January 2019.
Records indicate the domain was purchased on Nov. 30, 2021, a few days before the brothers took the witness stand in Smollett’s trial. On March 10, the day Smollett was sentenced last week, the brothers’ Instagram accounts announced the release of a new song, “Magic.”
The cartoon street also has a storefront for “The Bathhouse,” where Smollett testified he had a romantic assignation with Abimbola Osundairo, who had claimed in an early version of the defamation case that no such encounter took place.
The website says that purchasing an NFT entitles the buyer to “exclusive events,” including a training session with the brothers, access to one of Abimbola Osundairos boxing matches and an autographed photo. It lays out “The Process,” a timeline for the production of “a little over 10,000 rare NFTs” by June, their sale in July and the launch of a “merch store” and a location in the virtual space known as the metaverse.
The Osundairos’ suit claims Glandian smeared the Chicago-based bodybuilders on national TV and on podcasts in the days after charges against Smollett initially were dropped by prosecutors in 2019. Specifically, Glandian suggested they wore “whiteface” makeup to pose as racist, homophobic attackers.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland comes just days after Smollett walked out of the Cook County Jail to await the outcome of an appeal of his conviction for staging the attack.
Rowland dismissed several of the claims the brothers made over specific statements by Glandian, but found that they could have been defamed by the “whiteface” remark, which implicated them in committing a hate crime.
Glandian’s attorney Brendan Healey called the lawsuit frivolous, noting that previous rulings had dismissed all claims against Geragos and his firm.
“We are confident that the single remaining allegation reflecting Ms. Glandian’s opinion will be dismissed in due course,” Healey wrote in an email.
Asked about the lawsuit filed by Geragos, Kulis said he had not yet been served with a copy and had no knowledge of whether the Osundarios were involved in the NFT or other promotions.
“If they’re saying we filed the suit to make money, I took this case on a contingency basis,” Kulis said. “We believe we have a valid claim, and I wouldn’t file a claim I believed didn’t have validity.
“I don’t know what my clients are doing outside this litigation.”
At issue are statements Glandian made during an interview on the “Today Show” just days after the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office made the bombshell announcement that it would dismiss all charges against Smollett, with the actor having performed a few hours of community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond.
Explaining how Smollett might have mistaken the Osundairo brothers, who are Black, for white men during the attack, Glandian proposed that they could have worn makeup, and noted that she had found video online of the brothers “in whiteface doing a Joker monologue with white makeup on.”
“And so it’s not — it’s not implausible,” Glandian said in the interview.
“Taken in context, Glandian was asserting plaintiffs’ involvement in a racially motivated attack,” Rowland wrote in her decision. “Explaining that the attackers were white, read in context, adds the implication that the attack was a hate crime.”
The Osundairos’ confession that they had been paid by Smollett to stage the attack led to the actor’s arrest in 2019.
In statements to investigators and a tearful interview on “Good Morning America,” Smollett claimed his attackers were wearing ski masks, but that he was able to see at least one of them was white. The Osundairo brothers, who had worked with Smollett as bodybuilding coaches and on the “Empire” set, are Black.
At Smollett’s trial, the Osundairos provided key testimony against the actor, stating that he approached Abimbola about faking the hate crime attack and paid him $3,500. Smollett said it was payment for bodybuilding coaching.
Glandian stayed on as Smollett’s lawyer after Special Prosecutor Dan Webb was appointed to re-investigate the case against Smollett, and a year later again charged the actor for faking the attack.
Glandian was on the trial team last year, when Smollett was found guilty on five of six counts of making false statements to police as they investigated the attack.
The actor was sentenced last week to 30 months of probation, with the first five months to be spent in the Cook County Jail — but Smollett was released Wednesday to await the outcome of an appeal of his conviction.