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 alleges 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 Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney Mark Geragos and co-counsel Tina Glandian 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 says.
A statement issued later Tuesday by Geragos and Glandian put the suit down as “comical,” “a parody” and “ridiculous” and said they expect it to be quickly thrown out of federal court.
“… This so-called lawsuit by the brothers is more of their lawyer driven nonsense, and a desperate attempt for them to stay relevant and further profit from an attack they admit they perpetrated,” the statement said.
The filing comes on the heels of a lawsuit by the city against Smollett seeking to recoup the expense of overtime work by Chicago police investigating the allegedly false report. Both civil cases could end up shedding light on the key question left by the sudden dismissal of the charges: Why did State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office abandon the case so quickly after bringing a 16-count indictment just a few weeks earlier?
At a news conference Tuesday, attorneys for the Osundairos contended the attacks on the brothers not only defamed them but also Chicago, saying Smollett’s actions and those of his lawyers left the city’s reputation in shambles.
The brothers “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,” said Gloria Schmidt, one of their attorneys in the lawsuit. “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 issued a statement on their behalf saying, “These lies are destroying our character and our reputation in our personal and professional lives.
“Those who know us personally know that we don’t have hate for anyone,” the statement said. “… That is not who we are.”
Gregory Kulis, another attorney for the brothers, said the suit was filed in federal court because county prosecutors’ handling of the Smollett case raised questions about the fairness of the Cook County court system.
“As an independent venue, we will have the facts come out as they should,” he said.
The 16-page lawsuit alleges 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 Abimbola’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 “Empire” 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 says.
The defamation suit also calls out Smollelt’s attorneys for floating the theory that the Osundairo brothers may have worn “whiteface” makeup during the attack to hide their identities.
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, the filing says.
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 steroidlike 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.”
The lawsuit notes that many of the allegedly defamatory statements by Smollett’s attorneys were made after the charges against Smollett had been dropped and therefore served no “legal function.”
Defamation claims can be difficult to win because the plaintiffs have to prove not only that 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 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 alleges.
The move to drop charges — which blindsided police brass and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel — has provoked fierce criticism. Emanuel’s administration 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.