CHICAGO -- Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb on Friday was appointed special prosecutor to look into why State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office abruptly dropped all charges against actor Jussie Smollett.
The appointment was announced by Judge Michael Toomin during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. Webb was sworn in shortly after the announcement. "Very well. Congratulations," the judge said as he shook Webb's hand.
Smollett, the onetime "Empire" actor who is African American and openly gay, reported that two men attacked him on a frigid January night in downtown Chicago, slipping a noose around his neck and shouting racist and homophobic slurs.
After an intense investigation by Chicago police, Smollett eventually turned from victim to suspect. He ended up indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct alleging he paid $3,500 to two brothers he knew to stage the attack near his apartment building in the Streeterville neighborhood.
But just a few weeks later, Foxx's office dropped all charges with little explanation.
Sheila O'Brien, a former state appellate judge, sought the special prosecutor in largely a solo effort, saying her only motive in spearheading the effort was to ensure respect for the law.
In June, Toomin ordered the appointment in a somewhat unexpected ruling, saying the case's "unprecedented irregularities" warranted the appointment "to restore the public's confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system." Toomin -- who has been on the Circuit Court bench for nearly 40 years -- ruled Foxx's botched decision to appoint her top deputy to prosecute Smollett after recusing herself invalidated the case from start to finish.
The rare move to appoint a special prosecutor marks the first step in what promises to be a full-blown probe of how Foxx's office made the controversial decision to drop the charges. The investigation could cast a cloud over Foxx's bid for re-election next year.
As special prosecutor, Webb will bring on a team of attorneys to assist in the probe. They will wield extensive power to follow the probe where it leads, including investigating "the actions of any person or office involved in all aspects of the case," Toomin's ruling noted. They could also file new charges against Smollett -- or anyone else they reasonably believe committed a crime.
This is not the first time Toomin as tapped Webb for such a role.