A Cook County judge on Friday appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb as special prosecutor overseeing the Jussie Smollett investigation.
Webb, now co-executive chairman of Winston & Strawn, was appointed by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Toomin, who in June ordered an independent investigation into the handling of the charges against Smollett. The former “Empire” star was accused of hiring two men to stage a hate crime against him in January, though the State’s Attorney’s office dropped the charges after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx received a telephone call about the case.
Foxx has since contended her office handled the case the same as it would have for other first offenders accused of non-violent crimes.
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The decision to drop the charges outraged police officials, as the department conducted a significant investigation into the report of a hate crime before concluding that Smollett had engaged in a hoax.
Webb has been tasked with investigating potential wrongdoing in the handling of the case, deciding whether to file additional charges against Smollett, and submitting a report to the court summarizing his findings. He is taking on the case pro bono besides out-of-pocket expenses.
The appointment is Webb’s sixth as a special prosecutor. As a U.S. attorney, Webb oversaw prosecutions in Operation Greylord, which indicted nearly 100 public officials on charges related to judicial corruption. Since entering private practice, Webb has defended several high-profile defendants including Governor George Ryan against public corruption charges.
Smollett’s case received national attention, with police alleging that his attack was in fact a hoax he set in motion to gain attention. On January 29, Smollett told police he was attacked downtown by two people who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him and put a noose around his neck. The men arrested in connection with the attack told police that Smollett orchestrated the incident.
Foxx recused herself in February from the investigation, delegating the case to a deputy.
Smollett was indicted on 16 counts before prosecutors dropped all charges in March. The city has since sued Smollett, seeking compensation for $130,000 in police overtime pay, and Foxx requested an independent review of her handling of the case.
Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian did not respond to a request for comment.
In June, Toomin ruled that the handling of Smollett’s case may be invalid given that Foxx recused herself before handing it off.
“We are honored to play a role in helping, as Judge Toomin indicated, ‘restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system,’” Webb said in a press release Friday.