Cook County Judge Steven Watkins, who presided over a March hearing where prosecutors dismissed the charges with little explanation, ordered the records to be made public in the controversial case that’s pitted the city’s top cops against prosecutors.
The unsealed documents are likely to include grand jury transcripts, charging documents, and indictments, as well as any motions that were filed, Chicago criminal defense lawyer James Fabbrini told Fox News.
Bond information, as well as corroborating evidence and alibis, also could be among the soon-to-be-public documents.
Despite the new trove of information, Fabbrini doesn’t believe it will sway public perception.
“It’s not going to move the needle much,” he said.
Smollett made national headlines in January when he filed a police report alleging two masked men attacked him, put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, claimed the men made racist and homophobic comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” - a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
After an intense investigation, police said Smollett staged the entire incident to drum up publicity for his career.
Smollett has strongly denied the accusations against him.
After the charges were dropped, the court approved a request by his lawyer to seal the case. Several news organizations, including The Associated Press and The New York Times, asked the judge to reverse the decision, arguing there was a need for more transparency as to why prosecutors suddenly decided to drop the charges. Smollett’s lawyers had argued that since the case was dropped, Smollett had “the right to be left alone.”
Judge Watkins disagreed.
Smollett “voluntarily appeared on national television for an interview speaking about the incident in detail,” the judge wrote. “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. On several occasions, attorneys for defendant, presumably with his authorization, appeared on various media outlets speaking about the case.”
Watkins added, “These are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply to be let alone.”
Natalie Spears, an attorney representing the media organizations that wanted the file unsealed, applauded Watkins’ decision Thursday.
“This is about transparency and trust in the system and we believe the public has a right to know what the government did and why,” she said after the hearing.
There was no immediate comment from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Though Foxx has publicly said she’d welcome an independent probe into her office’s decision, she has fought an effort by a retired Illinois appeals court judge to force the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Fox News’ Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.