Chicago Judge in Jussie Smollett Special Prosecutor Case Reassigns Matter to New Jurist

Jussie Smollett arriving for court in Chicago, March 14, 2019. All charges were later dropped against him.
Photo: Getty

The judge who was to decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor to look into how all charges came to be dropped against Jussie Smollett has decided to let a different judge handle it.

Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. said Friday he was not recusing himself from the case, merely reassigning it.

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Martin came under scrutiny after the person pushing for a special prosecutor argued that Martin should recuse himself because his son works for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office; even though he had no role in the decision to drop the charges against Smollett.

The Cook County prosecutor’s office as well as Martin argued that having a judge recuse simply for having a family member employed as a prosecutor would set a bad precedent.

Instead, Martin reassigned the case to another judge, Michael Toomin, saying, as the Chicago Tribune explained:

“The idea that a judge should recuse because they have a close family member working in the office, [the system] would literally grind to a halt,” he said. “It’s just that’s not how this thing is intended to work.”

Noting the “tremendous” public interest in the Smollett case, however, the judge said he decided to turn the issue over to a different judge to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

“I am not unmindful that there are people in the public who believe that my being on this case somehow taints the proceedings,” he said. “I am ever mindful, as former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opined in a dissent once, that the appearance of justice is often as important as justice itself.”

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A former Illinois appeals court judge, Sheila O’Brien, has been pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate how Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office decided to drop 16 felony disorderly conduct charges brought against the Empire actor after he was accused of faking a racist and homophobic attack on himself and lying about it to authorities.

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Foxx said she had no personal input in the decision, but later said the decision to drop the case was due to weaknesses in it.

However, since the decision was made, Foxx has taken a lot of heat, especially from police groups, which have questioned her fitness to lead as Chicago’s and Cook County’s chief prosecutor.

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Foxx says she has no problem with the decision being looked at, but says a special prosecutor would only duplicate work already being done by the Cook County inspector general.

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