Judge Steven Watkins: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Judge Steve Watkins

Twitter/Getty Judge Steve Watkins and Empire actor Jussie Smollett

Judge Steven Watkins is a Cook County judge who oversaw the Jussie Smollett case. Smollett, who was accused of making false reports to Chicago police after reportedly staging a hoax hate crime, had all charges against him dropped Tuesday.

Smollett previously pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct after he was accused of hiring two men to beat him while yelling “This is MAGA county.” The plea was entered just hours after Judge Watkins was assigned the case, Fox News reported.

On Tuesday, Smollett arrived in court for an emergency hearing in which Watkins ruled that the charges against him would be dropped.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office did not say why the charges were dropped. Smollett will forfeit the $10,000 he posted as bail after his arrest.

“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.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Judge Steven Watkins Oversaw The Jussie Smollett Case

All Charges Dropped In Case Against Jussie Smollett | Craig Melvin | MSNBCChicago prosecutors have dropped all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett just weeks after he was indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly filing a false police report. » Subscribe to MSNBC: http://on.msnbc.com/SubscribeTomsnbc MSNBC delivers breaking news and in-depth analysis of the headlines, as well as informed perspectives. Find video clips and segments from The…2019-03-26T16:18:18.000Z

Judge Steven Watkins, a judge on the Cook County 2nd Subcircuit in Illinois, was assigned the Jussie Smollett case earlier this month.

Smollett, who is black and openly gay, claimed to Chicago police and in media interviews that he was assaulted by two masked men in January. He claimed that one of the men wore a red hat and shouted “this is MAGA county” and racist and homophobic slurs. He also claimed they poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck.

It was later revealed that the two suspects were actually acquaintances of Smollett. Chicago police alleged that Smollett paid them to stage the assault and charged him with 16 counts of disorderly conduct in the case.


2. Smollett Pleaded Not Guilty Hours After Watkins Was Assigned The Case

Smollett, lawyers speak after prosecutors drop chargesProsecutors dropped their case against 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett. Smollett makes an emergency court appearance in Chicago speaks to reporters with his lawyers. Read more on this breaking news here: https://fxn.ws/2urZJvr FOX News Channel (FNC) is a 24-hour all-encompassing news service dedicated to delivering breaking news as well as political and business news. The number…2019-03-26T16:20:14.000Z

Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian entered a not guilty plea on his behalf hours after Watkins was assigned the case.

Watkins said at the time that the actor “must be in court, each and every time.”

After the charges were dropped Tuesday, Smollett declared that he was vindicated in the case.

“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. 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.


3. Watkins Allowed Cameras in the Courtroom

Judge OKs camera in court for Jussie Smollett's hearingA Cook County judge ruled Tuesday that a camera would be allowed in the courtroom during actor Jussie Smollett's arraignment hearing on Thursday, March 14, 20192019-03-13T01:17:29.000Z

Watkins allowed cameras into the courtroom for the case after Smollett’s legal team and prosecutors agreed to let media air the proceedings.

“There has been a lot of misinformation in this case that has been presented as fact and evidence against Mr. Smollett, which is demonstrably false,” Glandian said at the time.

“We welcome cameras in the courtroom so that the public and the media can see the actual evidence and what we believe is actually going to be the lack of evidence against Mr. Smollett. And we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out,” she added.


4. Watkins Ruled All Charges Against Smollett Would Be Dropped

Jussie Smollett: "I have been truthful and consistent on every level since day one"Attorneys for "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett said all the criminal charges against him have been dropped. Smollett — who authorities said filed false reports of a crime — had been indicted on 16 felony counts by a Cook County grand jury. #CNN #News2019-03-26T16:30:22.000Z

Watkins ruled Tuesday at an emergency hearing that all charges against Smollett would be dropped after prosecutors declined to move forward.

Smollett will forfeit the $10,000 he posted as bail after his arrest.

Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, told CBS Chicago that there was no deal struck with prosecutors and that Cook County prosecutors decided to drop the charges on their own.

“We believe that it was the correct result in this case. We’re very happy for this result, and we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life, and to move forward,” Holmes said. “There is no deal. The state dismissed the charges.”

Holmes said Smollett volunteered to forfeit his bail money in the case.

CBS Chicago reported that the Chicago Police Department was blindsided by the news.

Judge Watkins granted a motion to seal the case.


5. Watkins is a Democrat Who Is Up For Reelection Next Year

WATCH LIVE: Chicago mayor, police superintendent speak after Jussie Smollett charges droppedStream your PBS favorites with the PBS app: https://to.pbs.org/2Jb8twG Find more from PBS NewsHour at https://www.pbs.org/newshour Subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/2HfsCD6 Follow us: Facebook: http://www.pbs.org/newshour Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/newshour Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/newshour Snapchat: @pbsnews Subscribe: PBS NewsHour podcasts: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/podcasts Newsletters: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/subscribe2019-03-26T18:30:24.000Z

Watkins is serving his first term as a judge in the Cook County 2nd Subcircuit after he defeated Nyshana Sumner in the 2014 Democratic primary with 54.6 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.

He ran unopposed in the general election and is up for reelection in 2020.

He previously had a private practice as an attorney and was an arbitrator with the Cook County Circuit Court’s Mandatory Arbitration Program.

Watkins attended Howard University and later earned his J.D. from DePaul University School of Law.

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