By Brendan O’Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on Monday to renewed felony charges that he made false reports to police about being attacked in a hate crime that he is accused of staging in a bid to advance his career.
The new charges emerged after a five-month investigation by a court-appointed special prosecutor who overruled a decision by the state’s attorney’s office last year to dismiss the original case.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Linn ordered a $20,000 bond against Smollett and set a March 18 hearing in the case. The 37-year-old actor was indicted on six counts of disorderly conduct on Feb. 11.
Smollett, wearing a black jacket, white shirt and black tie, spoke at the hearing only when the judge asked him a series of procedural questions to which he answered, “Yes, sir.”
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, has insisted he told the truth in his account of being accosted on a darkened street in January 2019 by two masked strangers.
According to Smollett, his assailants threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for President Donald Trump.
Police arrested Smollett a month later, accusing the actor of paying two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack in a hoax aimed at gaining public sympathy and raising his show-business profile.
Earlier on Monday, Smollett’s attorneys asked the Illinois Supreme Court to halt the proceedings against him to allow a hearing on a challenge to the appointment of the special prosecutor. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the request.
The appointment “was flawed and contrary to the statute,” Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, told a news conference after the hearing at the Cook County court.
“It’s very frustrating,” she added. “We are optimistic that the higher court will reverse.”
Glandian also submitted a motion to the circuit court to dismiss the case based on a double-jeopardy challenge, claiming that Smollett had already been punished in the original case by forfeiting his original $10,000 bond.
“He’s obviously frustrated, being dragged through this process again,” she said.
Smollett was charged in March 2019 in a 16-count indictment, but the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges three weeks later in exchange for forfeiting his bail without admitting wrongdoing.
The dismissal drew an outcry from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police superintendent, who branded the reversal a miscarriage of justice, leading a Cook County judge to appoint former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to review the case.
Webb said he determined that further prosecution of Smollett was warranted, calling into question prosecutors’ judgment in dropping the original case.
Smollett lost his role as a singer-songwriter in “Empire,” a Fox television hip-hop drama, after accusations arose against him.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Writing by Peter Szekely in New York and Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis)