A Cook County judge has granted a request from multiple media outlets, including The Hollywood Reporter, to make those files public.
During the hearing in which prosecutors informed the court it would not be pursuing the 16 counts of disorderly conduct against Smollett, the actor’s team requested immediate sealing of the records. The state didn’t object and the court signed the order. The media group, which also includes The New York Times, NBCUniversal and Tribune Media, on April 1 filed an emergency motion to intervene and asked judge Steven Watkins to unseal them.
Watkins felt the situation didn’t demand an immediate decision and held oral arguments on May 16. On Thursday he issued an order unsealing the documents.
“This Court is not persuaded that the first amendment presumption of access attaches to records in a criminal case that was disposed by entry of nolle prosequi,” writes Watkins. “Nonetheless, persuasive authority indicates that the common-law presumption does apply.”
While Illinois’ common-law presumption of public access to court records is not absolute, Watkins held keeping them sealed does require good cause.
The media intervenors argued that the matter has been widely publicized, including appearances by Smollett and his legal team on national television, and that the case implicates issues regarding how the case was handled by law enforcement and prosecutors. Meanwhile, Smollett’s team argued that it was the media who gave the case substantial public attention.
“To be sure, it is easily conceivable that a defendant whose case was dismissed would wish to maintain his sense of privacy, even if, perhaps especially if, the media covered the case,” writes Watkins, noting that it could seem unjust to deny a defendant’s right to privacy just because the media covered his case. However, Watkins found Smollett’s TV appearances, and those of his legal team, “are not the actions of a person seeking to maintain his privacy or simply be let alone.”
“While the Court appreciates that the Defendant was in the public eye before the events that precipitated this case, it was not necessary for him to address this so publicly and to such an extent,” writes Watkins. “By doing so, the Court cannot credit his privacy interest as good cause to keep the case records sealed.”
Read the full order below.