Jussie Smollett Accuses Chicago Judge of “Explicit Bias” in Hate Crimes Hoax Case

In a long-awaited appeal to keep the ”Empire” star out of jail, the actor’s lawyers say the trial judge was not impartial

Lawyers for Jussie Smollett filed an appeal of his hate crime hoax conviction this week, claiming the Empire actor did not receive a fair trial because the Chicago judge overseeing his case showed “explicit bias” against the Black, gay actor.

Smollett’s lawyers argue in the appeal that Cook County Judge Michael Toomin “improperly set forth an opinion that Mr. Smollett was, in fact, guilty of charges which a) Mr. Smollett specifically pled not guilty to,” and cited a comment made by the judge before he appointed a special prosecutor: “In perhaps the most prominent display of his acting potential, Smollett conceived a fantasy that propelled him from the role of a sympathetic victim of a vicious homophobic attack to that of a charlatan who fomented a hoax the equal of any twisted television intrigue.”

Smollett was released after serving six days of his 150-day sentence this time of 2022 and has remained a free man while his attorneys prepared his appeal, which states he was not given a fair trial. “Judge Toomin denied Mr. Smollett that constitutional guarantee,” Smolett’s attorneys said. 

The legal team was originally due to file his appellate brief in August but were granted five extensions of that deadline.

The bizarre Smollett case, which became a political lightning rod, began on a January night in 2019 in Chicago when Smollett told police he was attacked by two men who shouted homophobic and racist slurs, poured a chemical substance on him, and put a rope around his neck.

A week earlier, Smollett and producers on “Empire” reported receiving threatening letters at the show’s Chicago productions offices. The letters “MAGA” were written, in red ink, in the return address section of the envelope. Smollett told police he and the show’s executive producer used gloves to open the envelope. Inside was a threat in cut-out letters: “You will die Black (expletive).” Inside, a white powder was discovered; it was later determined to be crushed pain reliever, according to police.

As police began to suspect Smollett was lying, Smolett’s supporters, celebrities, and prominent politicians were denouncing the attack. As questions continued to swirl, Smollett gave an interview to Good Morning America on Feb. 14, 2019, telling Robin Roberts: “You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this.”

Days later, Smollett was charged with filing a false police report, and booked by Chicago Police, Following his Feb. 14 arrest, Cook County grand jury later indicted Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. Smollett’s then-attorney, Mark Geragos [an investor in Los Angeles magazine] pushed back against the new charges, which came a little more than two weeks after Smollett was charged with a single felony count, as overkill.

The actor pleaded not guilty and the charges were dropped in an abrupt move by Cook County State Attorney General Kim Foxx, until months later when Toomin announced the appointment of a special prosecutor.

A jury found Smollett guilty in December 2021 of five out of six felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report to police. He was sentenced in March 2022 to 30 months of felony probation, including 150 days in jail, and ordered to pay restitution of more than $120,000 and a fine of $25,000 for making false reports to police.

In the appeal, lawyers say Smollett’s conviction should be overturned because he was denied due process.

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