Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett and his attorneys lost their bid, Tuesday, to toss out a civil case, filed by the city of Chicago seeking to recoup around $130,000 spent investigating Smollett’s alleged hoax hate crime.
A Federal judge told Smollett’s attorneys that the case can move forward into discovery and the court set a loose timeline for trial, tabling litigation until early 2020.
The city of Chicago filed the civil suit against Smollett after he failed to pay a $130,000 bill, levied by the city’s Finance Department, to recoup dozens of overtime hours accrued by Chicago Police Department detectives while the chased down two racist, homophobic individuals who, Smollett said, attacked him outside of his apartment in the city’s tony Streeterville neighborhood in the wee hours of January 19th.
Smollett claimed that two white attackers wearing “Make America Great Again Hats” accosted him as he made his way back home from a nearby Subway sandwich shop. According to Smollett, the two men assaulted him, punched him in the face, tossed a noose around his neck, and doused him with a chemical before yelling, “This is MAGA country!” and taking off, leaving him lying in the street.
Smollett filed two police reports, one almost immediately after the incident and a second one later in the day after being released from the hospital, where he’d gone for treatment for minor injuries.
It later emerged, following an intense, multi-week investigation by Chicago Police Department detectives, that Smollett may have orchestrated his own hate crime, paying two former “Empire” extras — a pair of Nigerian-American brothers who also served as Smollett’s sometimes-personal trainers — to stage the attack in order to elevate his profile (which he thought could earn him more on “Empire”).
Following these revelations, which came alongside surveillance footage, further police interviews, and sworn testimony from the two brothers, Smollett was charged with 16 counts of filing a false police report — one count for each crime he alleged.
Smollett was eventually let off the hook, inking a de facto plea deal with the Cook County States Attorney, who dropped all charges against Smollett in return for two dozen hours of community service, which Smollett had previously completed, and Smollett’s $10,000 bond deposit. Smollett was not “cleared” of the charges, but the deal effectively ended the city of Chicago’s involvement in the case. An FBI and United States Postal Service investigation, into allegations that Smollett sent himself a noxious substance through the mail, has yet to conclude.
The city of Chicago then filed their suit seeking reimbursement.
Smollett’s attorneys argued Tuesday, USA Today reports, that Smollett should not be forced to pay because “Smollett himself did not direct Chicago police to spend weeks investigating his claim and could not have known how much time and money would be spent.”
The judge did not agree, noting that “if someone was going to falsely claim a racist and homophobic attack, it isn’t unreasonable to think the Chicago Police wouldn’t spend the hours necessary to investigate it,” according to local Chicago reporter Rafer Weigel.
Judge Kendall denies #JussieSmollett lawyers request to dismiss the case. Saying, if someone was going to falsely claim a racist and homophobic attack, it isn’t unreasonable to think the @Chicago_Police wouldn’t spend the hours necessary to investigate it. Moving to discovery. https://t.co/Qv6t9GwioL
— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) October 22, 2019
When asked why Smollett wanted to pursue the case, despite the likelihood that his legal fees will total more than the original $130,000 fine, his attorney told Weigel that “my client has maintained his innocence and he believes you don’t put a price tag on that. He’s willing to spend what it takes to prove his innocence because, unfortunately, he has been proven guilty in the media more than proven innocent.”
His attorney later added, “(Jussie) has always maintained his innocence and is happy to have this decided on the facts and when the facts come out they will show his innocence.”
The judge opened the case up to discovery and pre-trial motions. A trial on the merits of the case is likely to wait until summer of 2020.