Judge allows cameras at Jussie Smollett sentencing

In his ruling Friday, Judge James Linn reasoned that previous concerns about allowing cameras in the courtroom no longer exist following the conclusion of Smollett’s jury trial for staging a hate crime. “There is no good cause to continue to deny extended media coverage for post-trial proceedings,” he wrote.

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Jussie Smollett and family leave the courtroom during his trial at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in December.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge will allow news cameras to broadcast the sentencing hearing for former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett next month after he previously rejected their presence in the courtroom.

Smollet, 39, was convicted in December of staging a hate crime against himself and lying about it to Chicago police. A jury found him guilty of five counts of disorderly conduct but acquitted the actor and singer of a sixth count.

In his ruling Friday, Judge James Linn reasoned that previous concerns about allowing cameras in the courtroom no longer exist following the conclusion of Smollett’s jury trial and wrote “there is no good cause to continue to deny extended media coverage for post-trial proceedings.”

Linn denied previous requests to allow cameras to record the trial and had ruled last month he wouldn’t allow cameras at Smollett’s March 10 sentencing hearing after Smollett’s attorneys objected.

On Thursday, Steven Mandell, an attorney representing a group of media outlets, asked Linn to reconsider that ruling. He argued for the public’s right to watch the proceedings in real-time and called the case “of critical importance to the public.”

Mandell asked that a camera be allowed to record the hearing live and for a photographer to be allowed in the courtroom.

Smollett’s lead defense attorney Nenye Uche responded that the counts against Smollett were the lowest level of felony charges and said he was concerned broadcasting the proceedings would result in the case “growing more legs than it already has.”

“We want this case treated like any other Class 4 felony,” Uche said.

Attorneys for Special Prosecutor Dan Webb said they wouldn’t take a position on whether cameras should be allowed.

Smollett faces a maximum sentence of three years, but a lighter sentence — possibly including probation — is likely given his lack of a serious criminal background.

Smollett, who is Black and gay, claimed he was walking back to his Streeterville home on Jan. 29, 2019, when two men approached him in the 300 block of East North Lower Water Street and attacked him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, as well as shouting President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

The actor was later interviewed by police officers while wearing a thin rope noose he said his attackers draped around his neck.

The actor’s claims of the attack, widely denounced as a hate crime, captured international attention, but doubts and rumors soon swirled around Smollett’s account.

When Chicago police announced their investigation showed the actor had faked the incident after investigators tracked down brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who claimed at trial that Smollett had paid them to help stage the attack, Smollett’s image was badly tarnished.

On the witness stand at his trial, Smollett denied being involved in any hoax and said he had not received offers for new work since being charged.

The case also brought scrutiny on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office when the initial charges against Smollett were suddenly dropped months later.

Webb was appointed to look into that decision and later re-indicted the actor on new counts of disorderly conduct about a year after Smollett was first charged.

The special prosecutor’s report, unsealed after Smollett’s trial, stated Foxx and her office committed “substantial abuses of discretion,” but he said he found no evidence of criminal conduct or influence peddling.

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