Interviewer: Lot of legal issues still surrounding the Jussie Smollett case and we’re joined by our legal analyst, Paul Harding
, Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Hey, Paul, how are you?
Paul: Hey, good morning, guys, good.
Interviewer: So many legal questions here. Let’s start with, the City of Chicago says, “This is a hoax. We have the evidence. We want you to pay, and we’re sending you a bill for 130 grand for police overtime.”
Given the fact that all the charges have been dropped, is there any way that they can enforce that 130 grand?
Paul: Sure, you’ve got a whole different cause of action here, so, and when you…they’ve decided to drop the charges, no one’s really quite sure why they did that, we could talk about that.
You were talking about the cost of the city…that the city expended in looking at these charges, finding that there wasn’t anything there. They’re finding out that they believe it was a hoax. So, what they would do is they would bring a civil claim. It’s got a lesser standard, you gotta prove just beyond 50% that he did it. Easier burden of proof, you don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. And they can also give what they call “treble damages,” so this $130,000 could turn out to be just about $400,000. They said they’re gonna do it.
Kelly: Here’s the thing, though. If he refuses, then they can essentially open the case and decide whether he faked it or not. And the burden of proof for that is a lot lower, the standard of proof, than in a criminal case.
Paul: It is. It’s one of those things where I think Jussie, you know, right now he’s kind of blustering and saying, “I’m not gonna pay this. I didn’t do this.” But, if he decides not to pay this, now we’re talking about, yeah, a trial, where everything could be opened up. All the police investigation, all what we call the “sealed doc.” And, again, as Kelly pointed out, the standard of proof is not super hard to do when you’re talking about a civil case versus a criminal case.
Interviewer: So all those things that have been sealed, theoretically, could be reopened?
Paul: Yeah, in fact, that’s probably the thing that is gonna make this thing go away or make Jussie go ahead and pay this, even if he… Again, it’s a tricky thing, but, you know, what he doesn’t want is this media circus to continue. And, at the conclusion of the civil case, now, he cannot be charged again civilly, right? The cases are… I’m sorry.
Paul: Criminally. It has been dismissed, but there’s, the federal government’s kind of hanging out there saying… At least there was some conversation in the press that this mail fraud, these charges could still be pending against him. And I think that the more noise that he makes, the more likely that he might get a second look from the federal government for activity that he did a week before this, what they’re calling, a hoax.
Interviewer: Yeah, mailing himself, you know, bogus death threats using the U.S. Postal Service.
You had mentioned earlier the term “blustering.” His attorney had said, “Hey, we may sue, we’re considering everything.” That seems, to me, to be bluster for a couple of reasons. First of all, we could open up these records that seem to be…reflect poorly on him. But, also, I mean, who would he sue at this point?
Paul: Yeah, he would just kind of show that he was wrongfully prosecuted and all the facts seem to point to the fact that…properly prosecuted. The confusion here is why the prosecution sort of ended. I guess that’s what everyone’s trying to figure out. We’ve got a March 8th indictment and a March 26th dismissal, really unheard of.
Kelly: He’s pretty much in a no-win situation right now because either he pays this and it could be, like you said, almost $400,000. And it looks like, okay, well, he’s paying it because he’s guilty and wants to make it go away. Or, if he fights it, then it opens everything up to potentially showing that he actually made it up. So he really…take the lesser of two evils, I guess, which might actually be the fine.
Paul: The path of least resistance is gonna be to pay something. You know, he could probably even negotiate under 100,000 bucks, make it go away, and then he could still make a statement that, “That’s why I did it. I just wanna move on.”
Interviewer: And, you know, you mentioned that, of course, he can’t be charged again with the same thing, criminally.
What about the prosecutor? I know the feds are looking into why it was dismissed. And there was no guilty plea or anything. Could the prosecutor’s office be somehow liable?
Paul: You know, I’m not seeing that angle at all. I’ve read that, but, you know, it happens a lot, just doesn’t happen when we’re talking about a case that anybody cares about. You know, they’ve mentioned it happened 5,700 times in the preceding 12 months, so divide that by 12, it’s a big number. You know, not with this degree of scrutiny and not these sets of facts, so, no, I think they have…that’s within their prerogative, what they wanna process. The fact that it happened so quickly after the indictment, that’s the part that’s confusing. No, I don’t see anything going down that road.
Interviewer: Interesting. 1-800-LAW-1010 to reach Paul Harding and Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Paul, thanks so much.
Paul: You’re welcome.
Interviewer: WGY legal analyst, Paul Harding.