Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday in Cook County court to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a phony attack and claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.
The plea of not guilty to charges of filing a phony police report came after Judge Steven Watkins was randomly assigned to preside over the high-profile case.
Reporters, courthouse staffers and several supporters packed Watkins’ small courtroom for the arraignment. One man wore an “Empire” t-shirt, while a woman was clad in a shirt reading “Justice for Jussie.”
Watkins, a judge since 2014, is a relative newcomer to the Leighton Criminal Court Building, the court’s main criminal courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue.
Cameras were present for Watkins’ assignment to handle the case, but the judge will ultimately decide if court proceedings beyond Thursday’s brief hearing can be video-recorded.
Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, has taken the somewhat unusual position of favoring cameras in the courtroom, saying the defense wants the public to see what happens in court. Glandian said many of the leaks and rumors surrounding the story since it broke Jan. 29 were “actually demonstrably false.”
“In light of the substantial amount of misinformation in the case, the defense actually welcomes cameras in the courtroom,” she told the presiding judge of Cook County’s criminal division judge earlier this week.
Last week, a grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct. The 36-year-old actor, who is free on $100,000 bond, has vehemently denied lying to police or faking the attack. His legal team has also called the multiple counts “redundant and vindictive.”