When Jussie Smollett’s criminal case – in which he was accused of staging his own attack in Chicago – was dropped, a judge agreed to seal all documents pertaining to the court proceeding. Now, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins has decided that the public has a right to see the documents regarding Smollet’s case, and has ordered for it to be unsealed, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The records were sealed in order to protect Smollett’s privacy after the prosecution agreed to drop the case against him in Mar. 2019. The decision was based on an Illinois law that allows a defendant’s court file to be sealed if charges against them were dropped or they were acquitted. The decision to unseal the case would allow the public to see why the prosecutor’s office decided to drop the case.
In explaining his ruling, Judge Steven G. Watkins of the Circuit Court of Cook County wrote that Smollett’s request for privacy was not a good enough reason to keep the records sealed, considering that Mr. Smollett willingly spoke about the situation in detail on national television and in other venues.
Judge Watkins determined that Smollett chose to bring publicity to his own case and so should not be allowed the privacy of a sealed case file. “After the March 26 dismissal, he voluntarily stood in front of cameras from numerous news organizations in the courthouse lobby and spoke about the case,” Judge Watkins wrote. “These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply be let alone.”
As previously reported, Smollett was accused of staging a racist and homophobic assault against himself at the top of 2019. Brian Watson, a lawyer for Smollett, argued that the media had plenty of access to his client’s case and that unsealing it would violate Mr. Smollett’s rights.
Cathy McNeil Stein, the lawyer representing the state, said outside the courtroom on Thursday (May 23) that the state’s attorney’s office planned to review its files and turn over documents that were previously sealed. It was unclear how quickly that would happen.