New twist in Smol­lett saga: Judge blocks re­lease of special pros­e­cu­tor’s report on Foxx’s han­dling of case

Judge blocks re­lease of special pros­e­cu­tor’s report into how state’s at­tor­ney han­dled de­ci­sion to drop charges against ac­tor

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY JON SEIDEL AND ANDY GRIMM,

In a sur­prise rul­ing, a Cook County judge Fri­day blocked the re­lease of a 60-page report on a special pros­e­cu­tor’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx han­dled the un­ortho­dox de­ci­sion to drop charges against Jussie Smol­lett last year.

Special Pros­e­cu­tor Dan Webb last week an­nounced the re­sults of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion he be­gan when he was ap­pointed by Judge Michael Toomin a year ago, with find­ings that cleared Foxx, her staff and po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors of criminal wrong­do­ing, but cited eth­i­cal lapses in the han­dling of Smol­lett’s case.

But Toomin Fri­day de­nied Webb’s re­quest to make public a more de­tailed ac­count­ing of the ev­i­dence be­hind his con­clu­sions, with the judge stat­ing that much of the in­for­ma­tion about Smol­lett’s case was al­ready pub­licly known fol­low­ing the 18 months of in­tense me­dia scru­tiny that be­gan when the “Em­pire” ac­tor first re­ported be­ing at­tacked near his Streeter­ville home in 2019.

“There was ac­cess to ma­te­rial that lessens a need for this ma­te­rial to be re­leased,” Toomin said, seated in a large court­room at the Cook County Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Cen­ter.

Webb and Foxx’s at­tor­ney, Ruben

Castillo, left Toomin’s court­room im­me­di­ately af­ter the rul­ing with­out an­swer­ing ques­tions from the press.

Re­tired Judge Sheila O’Brien, who had pe­ti­tioned the courts to in­ves­ti­gate the Smol­lett case, was sur­prised by the de­ci­sion and held out hope that Webb might soon re­lease a ver­sion of his report with­out the grand jury ma­te­rial. “Would l love to see it? Sure, I want to read it all,” O’Brien told re­porters in the court­house lobby.

Smol­lett told po­lice in Jan­uary 2019 he had been jumped by two white men near his Streeter­ville home. Smol­lett wound up be­ing ac­cused of fak­ing the at­tack, and a pair of Nige­rian-born body­builders con­fessed Smol­lett had paid them to stage it. How­ever, a 16-count in­dict­ment filed against Smol­lett in March 2019 was tossed just weeks later, prompt­ing out­rage. He did not com­plete pro­ba­tion or even ad­mit guilt.

Af­ter Webb was ap­pointed special pros­e­cu­tor, he filed a new six­count in­dict­ment against Smol­lett in Fe­bru­ary. He was also tasked with look­ing into any wrong­do­ing in the han­dling of the case, and last week he said his in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­cov­ered “sub­stan­tial abuses of dis­cre­tion and op­er­a­tional fail­ures” in Foxx’s of­fice. In a 12-page “in­for­ma­tion re­lease,” Webb also said that

Foxx and her deputies made false state­ments to re­porters about the de­ci­sion to drop charges against the ac­tor in 2019.

Foxx, in a state­ment last week, said Webb’s an­nounce­ment put “to rest any im­pli­ca­tions of out­side in­flu­ence or criminal ac­tiv­ity on the part of the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice.”

Castillo added that the re­lease con­tained “fac­tual in­ac­cu­ra­cies” and had asked Toomin to give the of­fice time to re­view Webb’s report and pre­pare a re­sponse to his find­ings.

Dur­ing his ar­gu­ment to the judge Fri­day, Webb clearly re­peated one of the find­ings he shared in his an­nounce­ment last week — that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion had ex­on­er­ated Smol­lett of hav­ing im­prop­erly in­flu­enced Cook County pros­e­cu­tors.

“No one im­prop­erly in­flu­enced the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice,” Webb said.

Still, Webb in his an­nounce­ment wrote that lawyers who cur­rently or pre­vi­ously worked in the criminal di­vi­sion of the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice were “sur­prised” or “shocked” in some way by how the ini­tial charges against Smol­lett were han­dled. He also wrote that the de­ci­sion-mak­ers in that ini­tial case “have sig­nif­i­cantly and mean­ing­fully di­ver­gent ex­pla­na­tions for how the res­o­lu­tion was reached, in­clud­ing who ne­go­ti­ated the terms.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Webb pointed to un­true state­ments made by Foxx and her staff. For ex­am­ple, Webb said Foxx and oth­ers in her of­fice made false state­ments in April 2019 about whether she re­al­ized she had im­prop­erly re­cused her­self from the Smol­lett case.

Foxx ap­pointed an “act­ing state’s at­tor­ney” to han­dle the case rather than ask the judge to ap­point a special pros­e­cu­tor. Once Foxx and her staff re­al­ized the er­ror, Webb wrote that they “made the de­ci­sion to ig­nore this ma­jor le­gal de­fect seem­ingly be­cause they did not want to ad­mit that they had made such a ma­jor mistake of judg­ment.”

Kim Foxx

Jussie Smol­lett

SUN-TIMES FILE PHO­TOS

Jussie Smol­lett leaves court in March 2019 af­ter charges that he faked a hate crime against him­self were dropped.

Special Pros­e­cu­tor Dan Webb an­nounced last week the re­sults of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion that cleared Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx, her staff and po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors of criminal wrong­do­ing, but cited eth­i­cal lapses in the han­dling of Jussie Smol­lett’s case.

Judge Michael Toomin

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