A Cook County judge has granted multiple media requests, including from ‘The Hollywood Reporter,’ to unseal Jussie Smollett’s court records. During the hearing in which prosecutors told the court it would not be pursuing the 16 counts of disorderly conduct against Smollett, the actor’s team requested immediate sealing of the records.
On April 1, outlets such as ‘The New York Times,’ NBCUniversal and Tribune Media, filed an emergency motion to intervene and asked judge Steven Watkins to unseal them.
Over a month later, on May 16, Watkins held oral arguments to determine his course of action and on Thursday issued an order unsealing the documents.
While Illinois’ common-law presumption of public access to court records is not absolute, Watkins keeping them sealed does require a good cause.
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The media groups who were objecting to the initial decision argued that the matter has been widely publicized, including appearances by Jussie Smollett and his legal team on national television such as ‘Good Morning America,’ and that the case points to issues regarding how it was handled by law enforcement and prosecutors.
Jussie Smollett’s team countered that it was the media who gave the case substantial public attention. However, the judge found Smollett’s TV appearances, and those of his legal team, “are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply be let alone.”
“While the Court appreciates that the Defendant was in the public eye before the events that precipitated this case, it was not necessary for him to address this so publicly and to such an extent, by doing so, the Court cannot credit his privacy interest as good cause to keep the case records sealed.”
Smollett was accused of being the architect of his own January 29 attack which was perceived as being a hate crime perpetrated by Trump supporters. Chicago Police suggested that Jussie Smollett had staged the attack in order to gain publicity and acquire a pay increase on Fox drama ‘Empire.’