Chicago Tribune Ed. Board Demands Judge Stop Hiding 'Secrets' in Report on Smollett Prosecution

AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File
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FILE – In this March 26, 2019, file photo, actor Jussie Smollett talks to the media before leaving Cook County Court after his charges were dropped, in Chicago. On Friday, July 19, 2019, lawyers for Smollett filed motions contending the actor was the victim of an attack in an effort to convince a judge to reverse his decision to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)


In an editorial published Wednesday, The Chicago Tribune‘s editorial board has issued a scathing rebuke of the judge whom it says put a “brick” on the publication of a new report on actor Jussie Smollett’s prosecution — 18 months after authorities finally decided to handle the case in which Smollett tried to pull off a hate crime hoax on himself.

The piece, entitled “More secrecy in the Jussie Smollett case. Who is protecting whom now?” doesn’t mince words, laying out in plain language that something stinks about what went down in Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, in what they call “this still unfolding legal debacle”:

The attitude of major players in the county’s criminal justice system toward the citizens who employ them has amounted to a dismissive Just trust us. But instead of blindly trusting anyone in this still unfolding legal debacle, the public is left to wonder who’s protecting whom from criticism — and why.

At first, the Tribune was happy with Judge Michael Toomin’s decision to bring some “transparency” to things:

 We were pleased when, last August, the judge appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as a special prosecutor to examine how State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her staff handled the Smollett case. The whole point was transparency.


Webb delivered a summary of his report last month, stating that Foxx and her subordinates abused their discretion and misled the public. Webb’s damning summary said some of the false statements about the case came from State’s Attorney Foxx herself. And while Webb says no criminal charges against Foxx and her team are warranted, he says he will report possible violations of legal ethics to the Illinois board that disciplines attorneys for misconduct.


But they’re none too pleased with the way the judge is handling the release of Webb’s full report:

[N]ow Toomin says he won’t release the full Webb report, which runs 59 pages, because it includes sensitive grand jury testimony. Webb pressed Toomin on Tuesday to reconsider his decision.

And the editorial board thinks he should, too, even suggesting that the court’s Chief Judge get involved. From their perspective, the “prosecutors’ bizarre handling of the case — first presenting their evidence to a grand jury and securing an indictment of Smollett on felony charges, then abruptly dropping the case in a furtively arranged court proceeding” are crucial facts the public has a right to know about. They also want to know what exactly happened during “stealthy negotiations between Foxx’s office and Smollett’s attorneys.” The final straw, though, is the “brick on the special prosecutor’s full report.”

The good news for lovers of justice is that it sounds like that the details on the prosecutor’s office’s allegedly shading deal-making might get released anyway, whatever the judge does at this point:

Judge Pat O’Brien, who is challenging Foxx in the Nov. 3 election, said the issue “wasn’t over yet” and that Webb also could request that the Illinois Supreme Court review Toomin’s ruling. O’Brien said the attorney disciplinary board, which is expected to examine Foxx’s conduct, could release the full report as part of its review.


Let’s hope the truth of the matter comes out — sooner rather than later.


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