Jussie Smollett: Judge bans cameras and limits press access to court

Reporters were removed from the court for the start of jury selection due to ‘Covid restrictions’

Justin Vallejo
New York
Monday 29 November 2021 17:46
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The world’s media has been barred from reporting on the trial of accused hate hoax actor Jussie Smollet, with the judge banning cameras and limiting access to the start of jury selection.

After Judge James Linn ruled there would be “no cameras of any sort” allowed during the trial, he barred any journalists from entering the Cook County courtroom for the start of jury selection due to “Covid restrictions”.

Mr Linn initially relegated the press to the hallway outside the court for the entirety of the jury selection. He eventually relented and allowed two reporters from The Chicago Tribune and ABC7 Chicago.

Tribune reporter Megan Crepeau said journalists were asked to leave the court and told they wouldn’t be allowed to view the jury selection, before they were told they could hear questioning of jurors from the hallway outside the court.

As a result, media were barred from the courtroom for at least part of the jury selection before Mr Linn allowed Ms Crepeau and ABC7 Chicago reporter, Leah Hope, into the courtroom.

“Unlike other recent high-profile trials, there will be no livestream of the Smollett proceedings. There won’t even be a closed-circuit feed to an overflow room. So if you want to see what’s happening while it happens, you’ll need to be in the actual courtroom,” Ms Crepau said in a tweet.

“For those of you asking why, the answer is ‘because the judge said so’,” she added.

The judge first said so in October when he denied a request for extended media coverage of the trial without any explanation for the decision, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. That ban included a limited feed to another room in the court for press, which is common among high-profile trials.

The decision to bar cameras and limit the media’s access to the public courtroom came despite the Cook County Circuit Court boasting about its ability to tackle the Covid pandemic with innovations in videoconference hearings, touting its 1,474,274 hours of Zoom court sessions with more than 1.8 million participants.

A spokeswoman for the Cook County Court’s office of the chief judge told The Independent media may be allowed to access the court during the trial, but maintained there would be no cameras or streaming allowed.

“The judge initially could not have press plus selection due to Covid restrictions- then let in 2 pool reporters. We’re working out how to provide access to all. No cameras and no streaming,” Mary Wisniewski said in a statement.

“More reporters are being allowed in as space opens,” Ms Wisniewski added.

Mr Smollett is accused of staging a racist and homophobic attack in the early hours of a freezing Chicago night in January 2019. The former Empire actor is charged with felony disorderly conduct.

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