More than three years after Jussie Smollett’s phony hate crime saga began on a frigid Streeterville street corner, Cook County Judge James Linn sentenced the fallen star to 150 days in jail and 30 months probation Thursday. Smollett was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and reimburse the city for $120,106 of police overtime dedicated to investigating his bogus claims.
Before sentencing, Linn said Smollett “committed hour upon hour upon hour of pure perjury” on the witness stand.
Writing in the Sun-Times Thursday evening, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose bungling of the case cast such a dark shadow that a judge found only a special prosecutor could restore the public’s faith in the county’s justice system, called Smollett’s trial “a kangaroo prosecution.”
She also said it was “costly,” even though the special prosecutor’s investigation and the prosecution itself were handled pro bono by the Winston & Strawn law firm.
Lately, Foxx seems almost as deep in denial as Smollett himself. In anticipation of the verdict, Foxx last week told reporters that the special prosecutor investigation “started with the proposition that perhaps that I had done something, and the summation was that I hadn’t.”
In fact, the investigation found, among other things, Foxx and her top aides treated Smollett favorably like no other defendant, they lied to the public about it, and Foxx herself lied about cutting off communications with Smollett’s family when, in fact, she had not. That was just the beginning.
The transgressions were so serious, special prosecutor Dan Webb referred his findings about Foxx and her aides to state regulators.
Officially, Foxx’s office said Thursday it will “continue to prioritize violent crime.”
That will be small consolation to the dozens of people it has charged with filing false reports over the past three years who have not received a “Smollett Deal.”
People like Jim Van Buskirk, who lost his job, his reputation, and his life savings when prosecutors accused him of falsely claiming that he had been tied up and robbed by a gunman at a Union Station restaurant he managed.
Foxx’s office prosecuted him to the fullest — no sweetheart deal. They took the case to trial. And they lost. Jim Van Buskirk is an innocent man.
It’s notable that Foxx’s office, the one that says it prioritizes violent crime, is still pursuing felony charges against a man almost three years after he allegedly spray-painted graffiti on The Bean sculpture. Another man who reportedly did it with him finally pleaded guilty in September after fighting felony charges for 2½ years. He received a one-year prison sentence in a plea deal with the office that “prioritizes violent crime.”
‘There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County’
After Foxx’s letter appeared in the Sun-Times, we received a letter, too. It came from an assistant state’s attorney (ASA) in Foxx’s office who has been in touch with us from time to time over the years. They asked if we would share their thoughts of the day. We will:
There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County. It is true that every day more resign. It is true that every night there are more text chains of depressed, hopeless and angry prosecutors who seem to be more embarrassed by the day at the state of this office. But some of us are still here.
It’s lazy and cliché to blame the state of things on COVID or outside influence. The reason why the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, once held in high regard nationwide as the most fierce, dedicated and hell-bent-on-justice prosecutor’s office in the country, now is a laughing stock is because of how terribly off the rails the train of reform has gone.
There is not a single real prosecutor that would argue small time retail theft is a big deal. There is not a single one that would argue drug possession should result in penitentiary time. There is not a single one that would argue that the efforts of the rehabilitation and diversion courts are not both successful, money saving and life changing for those that can get enrolled. There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County, and we agree with rehabilitation.
But the premise this office has put forth of shifting resources from those minor cases to focus on violent crime and public safety is nothing short of a lie and fraud perpetrated on the citizens of Cook County.
While relaxed prosecutions of minor offenses has increased, there have been zero efforts to direct that to violent crime. The complex homicide unit which by title would be the foremost unit going after violent crime, has decreased in size since Kim Foxx took office. It hasn’t doubled, tripled or quadrupled utilizing all the resources saved from ignoring petty crime. It has decreased.
The much publicized “gun strategies unit” is a miniscule unit generally regarded as a unit staffed with ASA’s who are not the best, brightest and hard-working and a unit that does little to actually help the cause. Why?
There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County, but they are not being deployed to fight violent crime as the administration wants you to believe.
With the hurricane of resignations in the past year the office is now staffed by inexperienced supervisors, first chairs (responsible for murder prosecutions) who have never even handled a murder case, and endless numbers of ASA’s promoted without knowledge or experience to do the job, but nonetheless thrust into the position because of attrition. Some will be great. Many will not.
In the past few years being a Cook County prosecutor has gone from being a source of pride to being one of embarrassment. A repetitive depressing cycle of doing the job, keeping your job and all the while trying to let everyone who is truly invested in prosecuting crime know that you aren’t “one of them.” There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County, but we are embarrassed.
The administration cannot find a single person to accept the job of the Chief of Criminal Prosecutions. The reason is because every single real prosecutor watched as one of us, Natosha Toller, an African-American woman who was a real prosecutor fighting for justice, was beaten down to the point she could take it no longer and had to leave. There is not a single real prosecutor who saw Natosha go and now would ever consider taking that position. In fact, to this day everyone who has been approached to consider taking that spot has declined.
There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County…but it’s not easy. To the police officers that risk their lives every shift for a thankless job where nothing you ever do will be seen as right by some….we respect you and you know who the real prosecutors are.
To the victims of crime in Cook County….we know that when your case is the one of 400 cases pending in a courtroom at 26th Street that at some times it may feel like no one cares. But when there are real prosecutors in that room you know it. And they will be fighting for you.
But most of all to the real prosecutors of Cook County…we will get through this. There have been dark times in past administrations. While this dark period may be different in its execution, it’s not the first time and won’t be the last time when the front lines despise the administration.
I know that every one of you is looking at jobs in DuPage, Lake, Will, the Attorney General, etc. While these are dark days please remember that we don’t work for the name on the front of the office at 69 W Washington. We work for a bigger purpose of justice.
The administration tries to tell us we are racist. We are insensitive. We are not empathetic. They do that from their 32nd floor downtown office while we are at 26th Street in the trenches giving the drug offender his 5th chance at probation, the 18-year-old kid from a rough neighborhood who has never been in trouble First Gun Offender Probation so he can stay in college, and while we work endless hours so that the indigent minority mother who lost her son to gun violence can hug us and cry on our shoulder thanking us after getting justice for her child. That is why we are still here.
There are still some real prosecutors in Cook County. And there are victims and hard-working police officers that need us to be there for them now more than ever. We will get through this. Please stay and fight until you can fight no more.