Nigerian Brothers sue ‘Empire’ actor, Jussie Smollett’s lawyers for defamation
Two brothers who allege Jussie Smollett paid them to stage an attack on the “Empire” actor filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Smollett’s attorneys, saying the high-profile legal team has continued to smear them after Cook County prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett.
The defamation lawsuit by Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo alleged that Smollett’s attorneys “doubled down” after the controversial dismissal of the indictment by insisting that the brothers, in fact, attacked the actor.
Smollett’s legal team didn’t just allege that the actor was “a wholly innocent victim, but that … (the brothers) unequivocally led a criminally homophobic, racist, and violent attack against Mr. Smollett,” the suit said.
Comments by Smollett’s Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney Mark Geragos and co-counsel Tina Glandian made the brothers “feel unsafe and alienated in their local Chicago community,” the suit said.
At a news conference Tuesday, the brothers’ attorneys took it a step further by attempting to link the attacks on the brothers to the defamation of Chicago at large, saying Smollett’s actions and those of his attorneys left the city’s reputation in shambles.
“The Chicagoan brothers told the truth,” said Gloria Schmidt, one of their attorneys in the suit. “They could have remained silent. But instead they told the truth to the police, and with their right hand in the air, they told the truth to the grand jury. We’re going to make sure that the lies and malice attacking our city, our Police Department and my two clients are met with truth and healing.”
The brothers did not attend the news conference, but Schmidt read a prepared statement said to be from them.
“These lies are destroying our character and our reputation in our personal and professional lives,” the statement said. “Those who know us personally know that we don’t have hate for anyone. … That is not who we are.”
The attorneys complained that the brothers have had a hard time finding work and are continually hounded by reporters and photographers.
Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report, but those charges were unexpectedly dropped last month by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.
The 16-page lawsuit alleged that Glandian falsely “inferred” in a podcast interview earlier this month that Abimbola Osundairo and Smollett “engaged, at least briefly, in homosexual acts together.” In fact, Abimbola is heterosexual and was dating a woman at the time of the alleged scheme, the suit said.
On the April 6 podcast with host/comedian Adam Carolla, Glandian posited a theory suggesting the older brother was suspicious that Abel’s relationship with Smollett had grown romantic. She said the suspicions were fueled by the fact that Abimbola had been a “stand in” for Smollett’s love interest on the show and recently spent the night at Smollett’s apartment.
“It’s one thing he’s playing this character, now he’s hanging out with this openly gay man and he’s spent the night there,” Glandian said. “So I think (Olabinjo) starts thinking to himself, you know, what’s really going on here?”
The allegation was particularly damaging because the brothers still have family in Nigeria, where same-sex activity is illegal and the vast majority of the population believes it “should not be tolerated,” according to the suit.
“Ms. Glandian’s globally broadcasted statements that Bola Osundairo is homosexual endangers him and the lives of his Nigerian family,” the suit said.
The defamation suit also called out Smollelt’s attorneys for floating the theory that the Osundairo brothers may have worn “white face” makeup during the attack to hide their identifies.
The defense team also allegedly lied in national television interviews that the brothers trafficked illegal steroids from Nigeria to help their fitness clients get in shape.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune earlier this month, Glandian went even further, saying Smollett had asked the brothers to get him an illegal steroid-like supplement available in Nigeria that would help him cut weight quickly.
At the time, Schmidt, the brothers’ attorney, laughed off the allegation, saying that providing steroids to a client goes against the brothers’ “code.”
“Their platform — the brothers’ — is all about being steroid-free,” she said. “Their whole thing is, you know, all-natural bodybuilding.”
The lawsuit noted that many of the defamatory statements by Smollett’s attorneys were made after the charges against Smollett had been dropped and therefore served no “legal function.”
Smollett’s attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
Defamation claims are difficult to win because not only do the plaintiffs have to prove the claims were false but also that their reputations were hurt in the process.
Joseph Lopez, a longtime criminal-defense attorney who has handled defamation cases in the past, said the Osundairo brothers may have a winnable case, particularly because Geragos and his team continued to make allegations against the brothers long after the case was dropped.
“Instead of shutting up, they made it worse,” said Lopez, who unsuccessfully sued a publisher in the 1990s over a book claiming mobster Frank “The German” Schweihs killed a Florida businessman. “Lawyers get immunity in the courtroom, but not outside it.”
Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, found himself at the center of an international media firestorm after he reported being the victim of a Jan. 29 attack by two people who shouted the slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Police initially treated the incident as a hate crime, but their focus turned to Smollett after the Osundairo brothers who were alleged to have been his attackers told detectives that Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, with a promise of an additional $500 later.
According to the suit, Smollett’s motivation for the staged attack was “simple.”
“He wanted his employer and the public to notice and appreciate him as a successful black, openly gay actor,” the suit alleged.
Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct in February for allegedly filing a false police report. In a stunning about-face last month, however, Foxx’s office dropped the 16-count indictment against Smollett at an unannounced court hearing on March 26.
The move to drop charges — which blindsided police brass and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel — has provoked fierce criticism. Emanuel’s administration has sued to try to force Smollett to reimburse Chicago for the more than $130,000 in police overtime spent investigating the alleged hoax even though the charges were dropped.
Foxx has faced pressure to explain in more detail why the prosecution of Smollett was so quickly abandoned. In an op-ed in the Tribune, she backed off her office’s initial stance that the case was strong, writing that they were uncertain of a conviction, but she offered no specifics.
At her request, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard agreed earlier this month to investigate the office’s handling of the Smollett case.
Thousands of text messages and emails released last week showed that the office was largely caught flat-footed by the massive response from the news media to its own stunning reversal. Texts between top-level prosecutors and its communications office show a scramble to coordinate their messaging and futilely try to tamp down the heated controversy.
Meanwhile, the brothers, both aspiring actors who’d met Smollett on the set of “Empire,” alleged in their defamation lawsuit that they were the true victims in the case.
“In short, Mr. Smollett used his clout as a wealthy actor to influence (the Osundairo brothers), who were in a subordinate relationship to him and were aspiring to ‘make it’ in Hollywood,” the suit said.
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