A Chicago judge on Friday ruled that he would keep in place a special prosecutor, who is investigating the handling of the Jussie Smollett case, despite a campaign contribution he made in 2016 to the state’s attorney, who dropped charges against the actor.
The Cook County Circuit Court Judge’s decision was delivered in a hearing after the special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, disclosed in a court filing that he co-hosted a 2016 fundraiser for Kim Foxx and gave $1,000 to her campaign for Cook County state’s attorney, reported ABC News. Foxx is Cook County’s first Black female state’s attorney.
Judge Michael Toomin said “there is no indication” that Webb’s disclosure would influence his decision on whether to ultimately reinstate charges against Smollett, and it is common practice for lawyers to contribute money to candidate campaigns.
“There’s no indication that (Webb) harbors any bias … to any party,” Toomin said, according to ABC News.
In March, Foxx dropped charges against Smollett, a former actor in the hit TV show Empire, for allegedly staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself. Smollett still says he was telling the truth and the attack was real.
The Osundairo brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, who are said to have perpetrated the attack, met with special prosecutor Webb this week to tell their side of the story, according to TMZ. Each brothers spent a few hours with the Webb’s team.
Before Toomin’s ruling, Webb told the judge that he didn’t even remember attending the fundraiser or writing out the check until someone recently told him.
“I don’t know Ms. Foxx …. and have never met her, as far as I know,” he said. “This is not even remotely a case that involves a conflict of interest.”
Webb, a former prosecutor who is now a sought after and highly respected private attorney, is investigating whether Foxx’s calls with a relative of Smollett and former aide to first lady Michelle Obama unduly influenced her decision to drop charges.
Prosecutor Cathy McNeil Stein, a Foxx representative during Friday’s hearing, told the judge that Foxx initially had no issues with Webb serving as special investigator, but now she worries about the perception of a conflict.
Retired Judge Sheila O’Brien, who initiated legal action leading to a special prosecutor, agreed. She told Toomin: “The concern I have is … what does the average person on the street think?” according to ABC News.
Smollett‘s attorneys didn’t oppose or back Webb. Initially, they were against the appointment of any special prosecutor, arguing that the charges were dropped and the case should have remained closed.