Leading lawyer for Jussie Smollett can remain on case, judge rules
CHICAGO — A top defense lawyer for Jussie Smollett will be allowed to stay on the actor’s defense team but cannot cross-examine two key witnesses against him, a Cook County judge has ruled.
In a written order, Judge James Linn said the evidence “clearly and convincingly” shows that attorney Nenye Uche had spoken with those witnesses about the case in its early stages, an allegation that Uche has strenuously denied.
But ultimately, Linn said, Smollett’s right to the lawyer of his choice outweighs prosecutors’ concerns about a conflict of interest, especially given that Smollett has waived any conflict — and in the end, it’s his own freedom on the line.
The ruling puts Uche in an unusual position: a lead defense attorney unable to cross-examine two of the prosecution’s main witnesses. One of Smollett’s other attorneys will have to take that role.
Smollett’s team and the witnesses’ attorney both claimed vindication after Linn’s ruling.
In a statement on behalf of the defense, attorney Tamara Walker noted that Smollett gets to keep the counsel of his choice.
The months of debate over Uche’s role was “a frivolous distraction from the Office of the Special Prosecutor,” she wrote. “... (Smollett) is innocent of these charges and now we are focused on moving forward to trial.”
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