Joseph Magats is the Cook County prosecutor who made the decision to drop all charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
Magats took over the case after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself after it was reported that she tried to convince Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to turn the investigation over to the FBI following calls from influential Smollett supporter Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Magats, who holds the position of first assistant state’s attorney in Foxx’s office, told The Sun-Times that his decision to drop the charges against Smollett, who is accused of staging a fake hate crime, should not be “interpreted that Smollett did not do what police and prosecutors have alleged,” the outlet reported.
He added that dropping the charges does not mean Smollett was the victim of any crime, as the actor had alleged.
“Absolutely not. We stand behind the CPD investigation done in this case, we stand behind the approval of charges in this case,” Magats told the Sun-Times. “They did a fantastic job. The fact there was an alternative disposition in this case is not and should not be viewed as some kind of admission there was something wrong with the case, or something wrong with the investigation that the Chicago Police did.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Joseph Magats Took Over Smollett Case After Kim Foxx Recused Herself
Magats took over the case after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that days after Smollett reported that he was attacked by two masked men who shouted homophobic and racist slurs and “this is MAGA county” to the police, Foxx tried to persuade Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to turn the investigation over to the FBI.
The move came after Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney and former chief of staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama, reached out to Foxx about the case.
According to the report, Tchen sent the contact information for one of Smollett’s relatives to Foxx, who later cited those conversations as the reason she recused herself.
Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct in the alleged hoax attack and police reports.
On Tuesday, Smollett arrived in court for an emergency hearing where all charges against him were dropped.
Smollett will forfeit the $10,000 he posted as bail after his arrest but his lawyer insisted they did not make a deal with prosecutors and that Magats dropped the charges on his own.
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement.
Magats, a 28-year veteran of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, previously headed its Criminal Prosecutions Bureau. He replaced Eric Sussman as Foxx’s top deputy in May of last year, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Magats told The Sun-Times that the decision to drop all charges “should not be interpreted that Smollett did not do what police and prosecutors have alleged,” the outlet reported.
He also denied that dropping the charges meant that Smollett was actually the victim of a crime.
“Absolutely not. We stand behind the CPD investigation done in this case, we stand behind the approval of charges in this case,” Magats said. “They did a fantastic job. The fact there was an alternative disposition in this case is not and should not be viewed as some kind of admission there was something wrong with the case, or something wrong with the investigation that the Chicago Police did.”
“It’s a nonviolent crime. He has no felony criminal background. If you start looking at the disposition in the case, in every case you need to look at the facts and circumstances of the case, and the defendant’s background,” he added.
2. Magats, a Prosecutor for 29 Years, Was Named Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau by Foxx in 2017 & Became Her Second-in-Command A Year Later
Joseph Magats, 54, has worked in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office for 29 years, according to the Chicago Tribune. Prior to Kim Foxx’s election to head up the office, Magats was a deputy chief state’s attorney. Foxx promoted Magats in January 2017 to be the chief of the criminal prosecutions bureau, according to the Chicago Law Bulletin.
Magats was then promoted again, in 2018, to become Foxx’s second-in-command as first assistant state’s attorney, the Chicago Tribune reported. His promotion came after the sudden departure of Eric Sussman, who had held the first assistant state’s attorney job since Foxx took over the office in December 2016.
With Magats’ promotion to be Cook’s second in command, prosecutor Risa Lanier was moved up to be the chief of criminal prosecutions. According to the Tribune, Lanier is the first African-American to lead that bureau. Lanier was in court for Smollett’s first appearance and held a press conference to discuss the case after.
3. Foxx Has Praised Magats for His ‘Credibility & Work Ethic & Expertise’
When State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx promoted Joe Magats to chief of the criminal prosecutions bureau, she praised his experience and reputation among his co-workers and others in the Chicago legal community.
“Joe’s been in the office for 25 years. … I will be his fifth state’s attorney,” Foxx told the Chicago Law Bulletin in January 2017. “And through it all, Joe has maintained a level of credibility and work ethic and expertise that his colleagues, and those who come up under him, can be inspired by his work ethic.”
Magats talked to Chicago Lawyer Magazine in 2011 about stepping away from being a prosecutor in the courtroom to being an administrator in the state’s attorney’s office. Magats had spent years as the lead prosecutor on high-profile murder cases.
“I get antsy sometimes not standing in a courtroom on a regular basis, but that’s just the way I’m wired, I guess,” Magats told the magazine. “[The move to administration] was like pumping the brakes, but my day is still filled and moving fast in so many other different ways.”
Magats also talked about how prosecutors, along with public defenders, are short-staffed. “They are overworked and they are stretched thin at times; in a perfect world, it wouldn’t be that way. But they work their behinds off and make sure each case is at a level it needs to be.”
4. Chicago Police & the City’s Mayor Expressed Outrage Over the Decision Made by Prosecutors
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was “furious” when he learned of the prosecutor’s decision in the case, CBS Chicago reported.
According to the report, Johnson was blindsided by the news and “had no heads up this was going to happen.”
Johnson held an emotional press conference when he announced Smollett’s arrest in February.
“To put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful,” he said.
“I only hope that the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention that the hoax did,” he added. “I’ll continue to pray for this troubled young man who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention.”
5. Jussie Smollett Says He Is Fully Vindicated, Despite What Magats Says About the Case
Despite Magats’ statement, Smollett claimed that he was fully vindicated after charges were dropped Tuesday.
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of doing what I was accused of,” he said, according to CBS Chicago. “I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain, I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of,” he continued.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of a faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn’t,” he added.