“It’s deadline day,” CBS’ Chicago affiliate announced this morning. According to Chicago officials, Jussie Smollett has four hours left to reimburse the city over $130,000 for investigative costs for his hate-crime hoax. Now-former mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered the bill sent to the Empire actor after he claimed vindication from a shady deal made with prosecutors. Will Smollett pay up to avoid further legal action?
I’ll put a couple of bucks down on no way in hell:
CNN picked up the countdown, too:
Thursday is the deadline for actor Jussie Smollett to pay the $130,106.15 bill sent to him by the city of Chicago to cover the cost of the investigation into his claim he was the victim of a possible hate crime.
In a letter sent to the “Empire” actor on March 28, the city’s corporation counsel said that if he didn’t pay in the next seven days, he might be prosecuted using Chicago’s municipal code or other legal remedies. …
CNN is trying to reach the actor’s attorneys. Previously, they declined to comment on the letter and referred CNN to an earlier statement that said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson should apologize to Smollett.
I’d put down a couple of more bucks on the no way in hell option for a Chicago apology, too. If the countdown comes to a showdown, though, Smollett better watch out. The city can take him to civil court to recoup damages and potentially a punitive award, and their evidentiary standard gets a lot easier in a lawsuit, as CBS Chicago notes:
If the city moves forward with a civil lawsuit against Smollett, the standards for proving he staged the January attack would be lower than in criminal court. While a criminal trial requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction, a civil trial would require the city to prove only that a “preponderance of evidence” – meaning it’s more likely true than not – that the incident was a hoax orchestrated by Smollett.
They presented enough to the grand jury to get an indictment on 16 counts. That’s a one-sided presentation, of course, but it certainly looks like the city will have no problem meeting a preponderance-of-evidence standard. The police and Emanuel both claimed that they only presented a small portion of their overall evidence to the grand jury, too. Smollett might end up paying a lot more money and taking a whole lot more public fury if all that starts pouring out in court. Defaulting on the $10,000 bond was a cheap way out of that trap.
Smollett might be hoping to get another rescue from new mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first African-American woman and lesbian to serve in that office. When asked yesterday about the case, Lightfoot didn’t speak conclusively — but she didn’t sound too sympathetic to Smollett, either:
“The State’s Attorney’s office here which made the decision unilaterally to drop the charges has to give a much more fulsome explanation,” Lightfoot said during an interview with Craig Melvin on MSNBC Wednesday. “We cannot create the perception that if you’re rich or famous or both that you got one set of justice — and for everybody else it’s something much harsher. That won’t do and we need to make sure that we have a criminal justice system that has integrity.”
When asked point blank by Melvin about whether she thought Smollett was innocent, Lightfoot hedged but said the evidence did not suggest that conclusion.
“I believe that everybody is entitled to a presumption of innocence,” she said. “But I saw — as I’m sure you and your listeners saw — a very compelling case, with video tapes, witness statement and other information that looked like he had staged a hoax, and if that happened he’s got to be held accountable.”
That doesn’t sound like someone willing to waive a $130K bill, nor someone who’s convinced that Smollett’s case was handled properly. Melvin almost seems surprised by the answer; if Smollett’s hoping for a better deal in post-Rahm Chicago, he’s going to be unpleasantly surprised as well.
Of course, Smollett has other worries besides today’s deadline. The FBI and US Postal Service is still investigating the earlier mailed threat to Empire’s production office naming Smollett as a target, which Chicago police was also a hoax engineered by Smollett. Nothing in a civil lawsuit will impact that investigation in one direction or another, but if the DoJ files federal charges, Smollett will need every cent he has to pay for lawyers as they try to keep him out of Club Fed for the next five years. Don’t bet on Smollett paying his bill today.
Update: Smollett’s co-star Taraji P. Henson told The View that Smollett will return for Empire‘s sixth season … assuming he’s not otherwise engaged:
Taraji dropped the news Thursday after Joy Behar straight-up asked on “The View” if Jussie’s gonna be on the show — currently in hiatus — next season. Taraji didn’t beat around the bush saying, “Yes. I haven’t heard anything else.” There is, of course, wiggle room here — she may not be looped in.
The fifth season of “Empire” wrapped up last week but there’s been no official word on whether season 6 is a go … but Taraji made it sound as if it’s all but official.
She also claims to be happy that the “truth has come out.” We’ll see.