It’s been a year filled with legal drama for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
2021 saw reality stars, TV veterans and musicians dragged to court, and some at the center of weekslong trials and even convictions. From “Real Housewives” star Erika Jayne to “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, the drama was aplenty.
Check out the biggest legal battles celebrities faced this year below.
A jury found actor Jussie Smollett guilty on five of six charges he staged a racist, anti-gay attack on himself and lied to police about it. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP | AP Photo/Cheryl Cook)
Jussie Smollett’s hate crime hoax
After a contentious week of witness testimony, counsel arguments and deliberation, a jury found Smollett guilty on the first five counts, and he was acquitted on a sixth count of lying to a detective weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
The 39-year-old “Empire” alum was charged with six counts of disorderly conduct related to false statements to Chicago police officers about a 2019 hate crime against him. In 2019, he claimed that two men attacked him due to his skin color and sexual orientation.
He was found guilty of telling a police officer he was a hate crime victim, telling an officer he was a battery victim, telling a detective he was a hate crime victim, telling a detective he was a battery victim and then telling a detective again he was battery victim.
Count 1 accused him of telling responding Chicago Police Officer Muhammed Baig at around 2:45 a.m., some 45 minutes after the purported attack, that he was the victim of a hate crime. He said two attackers put a rope around his neck. Count 2 referred to Smollett telling the same officer he was a victim of a battery, describing attackers beating and pouring bleach on him.
Jussie Smollett claimed to have been attacked in Chicago by two men in 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Counts 3 and 4 stemmed from Smollett making the same claims but to a different officer, Kimberly Murray, later that morning, just before 6 a.m.
Count 5 accused Smollett of again telling Murray at around 7:15 p.m. that he was the victim of a battery. Count 6 referred to Smollett reporting on Feb. 14, 2019, to detective Robert Graves that he’d been a victim of an aggravated battery.
Following the guilty verdict, special prosecutor Dan Webb addressed the media and told reporters that his message to the jury was that Smollett “faked a hate crime and then lied to the police about it and then compounded his crimes by lying to the jury during the course of this trial and insulting their intelligence.”
“With the resounding verdict we just received from this jury after one day of deliberations in which they found Mr. Smollett guilty on virtually all charges of doing exactly what we said he did – reporting a fake crime to the Chicago Police Department as a real crime. That verdict was a resounding message by the jury that, in fact, Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”
Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche told reporters Smollett was disappointed and that he is “100% innocent.” He said Smollett’s team is confident “he’s going to be cleared of all, all accusations on all charges” following an appeal.
Josh Duggar’s child pornography conviction
Josh Duggar was found guilty on child pornography charges, a jury in Arkansas ruled in early December.
The former reality TV star was immediately taken into custody after a federal jury convicted him of downloading and possessing child pornography.
The jury in Fayetteville, about 140 miles northwest of Little Rock, found the 33-year-old Duggar guilty on one count each of receiving and possessing child pornography. He faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each count when he’s sentenced.
Duggar’s attorneys released a statement to Fox News Digital shortly after the verdict, saying they intend to appeal.
Josh Duggar was immediately taken into custody following the conclusion of his trial. (Washington County Sheriff’s Office)
“We appreciate the jury’s lengthy deliberations, we respect the jury’s verdict, and we intend to appeal,” defense attorneys Justin Gelfand, Ian Murphy and Travis Story said.
U.S. attorneys in the case held a press conference outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced.
“This case represents a significant milestone for the Western District of Arkansas and our continued efforts to combat child abuse. Those who would say that children who were photographed and videoed in a manner similar to the evidence in this case are not abused and are not victims are clearly wrong. Children who are photographed and videoed in manners such as this are the victims and every time their videos and photos are traded online, uploaded, and downloaded from the internet, they are victimized again,” one of the U.S. attorneys said.
Federal authorities said they began investigating after a Little Rock police detective found child porn files were being shared by a computer traced to Duggar. A federal agent testified in May that images depicting the sexual abuse of children, including toddlers, were downloaded in 2019 onto a computer at a car dealership Duggar owned.
The defense had argued that someone else downloaded or placed the child pornography onto the computer at Duggar’s workplace, noting that no child pornography was found on Duggar’s phone or laptop. But the jury wasn’t swayed.
Josh Duggar was found guilty on all counts in his child porn case. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
Duggar and his large Arkansas family starred on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” until the network canceled the show in 2015 following revelations that he had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter. Authorities began investigating the abuse in 2006 after receiving a tip from a family friend but concluded that the statute of limitations on any possible charges had expired.
His parents said he had confessed to the fondling and apologized. At the time, Duggar apologized publicly for unspecified behavior and resigned as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.
Duggar later apologized for a pornography addiction and for cheating on his wife, calling himself “the biggest hypocrite ever.”
‘Real Housewives’ star Erika Jayne
“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne has come under intense scrutiny for the last year after filing for divorce from her once-renowned attorney husband, Thomas Girardi, and being hit with several lawsuits and allegations of shady financial dealings.
Jayne, 50, has been on the receiving end of backlash stemming from her and her husband’s legal and financial woes. Back in December 2020, Jayne was sued over allegations that her luxe life with her estranged husband was funded by money from the disgraced attorney’s former law firm, Girardi Keese. She was accused of using the couple’s November 2020 divorce filing to hide assets from victims of Lion Air Flight 610.
Throughout Season 11 of “RHOBH,” Jayne’s co-stars constantly questioned whether the “Dancing With the Stars” alum knew about Girardi’s actions. The questioning led to viewers calling for Jayne to be fired from the Bravo series altogether. The noise was so loud that Bravo host Andy Cohen weighed in on the calls for Jayne’s firing in October.
Erika Jayne filed for divorce from Thomas Girardi in late 2020 and has since come under fire for alleged shady business dealings. ( Jen Lowery/MEGA/GC Images/Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
First, Cohen reminded the public, “She has not been charged with a crime, as you may or may not know, and the story is unfolding as we watch.”
He went on to call Jayne’s legal battle, which was a major talking point amongst the Beverly Hills housewives in their most recent season, “an interesting story that we’ve seen.”
Cohen also drew attention to the past legal woes “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice endured. She spent 11 months behind bars for financial fraud while her ex-husband, Joe Giudice, served 41 months and was deported.
“Our mutual friend, Teresa, was involved in some bad business and we kept cameras going to see how that unfolded, I think, because so many viewers were invested in Teresa.”
‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ star Jen Shah
The reality star was arrested in April on federal fraud charges stemming from allegations she conspired to commit wire fraud and laundered money in connection to a purported telemarketing scam, federal prosecutors said.
Also named in the alleged scheme is Stuart Smith, 43, who has appeared on the popular Bravo reality series alongside Shah as her “first assistant.” Smith of Lehi, Utah, was also arrested.
Months before her arrest, during a SiriusXM interview, she said she had three marketing companies: a fashion company, a beauty company and a “lashes” company.
A statement from Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss alleges that Shah and Smith “generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam.”
Jen Shah was arrested in April on federal fraud charges stemming from allegations she conspired to commit wire fraud and laundered money in connection to a purported telemarketing scam, federal prosecutors said. (Gabe Ginsberg/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
In the statement, Strauss claimed that the star, Smith and their “co-conspirators” are guilty of pushing business opportunities onto victims, including “fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”
Furthermore, prosecutors said Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their “success,” which they claim is all fake and for show. “In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people,” said special agent-in-charge Peter C. Fitzhugh, from New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
“These individuals allegedly targeted and defrauded hundreds of victims but thanks to the hard work of the NYPD and our law enforcement partners, this illegal scheme was brought to an end,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in the statement.
Shah and Smith were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing. They are accused of victimizing 10 or more persons over the age of 55 – a penalty that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years – and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Shah has pleaded not guilty to the charges, while Smith changed his initial not guilty plea to guilty.
As recently as September, Shah maintained her innocence in the matter.
“I think what people don’t understand is, here in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty. I’m innocent,” she said during an Instagram Live chat (via People). “And I believe that this is not just my test, this is everybody’s test close to me and in my corner.”
This year saw Marilyn Manson get accused of sexual assault from a number of women, some of which have resulted in investigations and lawsuits.
On Nov. 29, a source confirmed to Fox News Digital that deputies from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) visited the 52-year-old rocker’s California home, serving a search warrant. The exact reason for the warrant was unclear, but TMZ reported that officers raided the property in a search related to Manson’s ongoing sexual assault investigations.
Marilyn Manson was dropped by his record label after his x-fiancee, the actor Evan Rachel Wood, accused him of sexual and other physical abuse. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Earlier this year, a Jane Doe sued the musician for sexual assault, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In her suit, the accuser alleged that the rocker, born Brian Warner, “raped” her and also subjected her to “further degrading acts of sexual exploitation, manipulation, and psychological abuse.”
The lawsuit was dismissed over the statute of limitations. Days before the Jane Doe suit was filed, Manson’s former assistant Ashley Walters sued her former employer, alleging sexual assault, battery and harassment.
“Game of Thrones” actress Esme Bianco has also sued the musician for sexual assault, trafficking and abuse. Similarly, actress Evan Rachel Wood, who was previously engaged to the rocker, accused him of abuse and grooming. Wood’s allegations led to Manson being dropped from his record label.
Manson has denied all allegations.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship
Britney Spears’ conservatorship drama was one of the most talked-about controversies in Hollywood in 2021. After numerous documentaries covering the pop star’s legal and family drama, a judge relieved her from the 13-year court order once and for all in September.
Britney Spears performs at 102.7 KIIS FM’s Jingle Ball 2016 at Staples Center on Dec. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. (Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Despite Spears’ newfound freedom, several issues still exist. Spears claimed in her July testimony that her father is guilty of “conservatorship abuse.” She’s also gone after other members of her family, including her sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, and her mother, Lynne Spears, claiming that they failed to help her in times of despair and isolation.
Questions also still remain as to whether Jamie will agree to be deposed by Spears’ attorney, Mathew Rosengart, over snooping allegations.
In a statement to Fox News Digital in September, Rosengart confirmed his plans to investigate Jamie’s alleged mishandling of the pop star’s finances.
“To the extent Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue,” the statement said.
Bill Cosby’s release from prison
The state’s highest court threw out the disgraced actor’s conviction after finding that District Attorney Kevin Steele, the prosecutor who brought the case against Cosby, violated an agreement to not charge him, a deal that previous District Attorney Bruce Castor had made in 2005, though it had apparently never been put in writing. Cosby, 84, was released from SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.
Hollywood’s biggest supporters of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements – among other celebs – immediately took to social media to share their reactions to the verdict; the onslaught of opinion was strong and swift as Cosby was the first mega name to be prosecuted for alleged sexual assaults since the #MeToo era blanketed the industry as a whole.
Comedian Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby’s home in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
At the time, widely outspoken #MeToo supporter Rose McGowan said: “I stand with all of Bill Cosby’s accusers on this dark day.”
Actress Amber Tamblyn, a founding member of Time’s Up, wrote: “I am furious to hear this news. I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision … I don’t want to hear anything about how cancel culture ruined men’s lives during the MeToo era reckoning for women and survivors. How we went too far. Today’s news that Cosby’s conviction is being overturned is proof we haven’t gone far enough. Our justice system MUST change.”
But Cosby’s legal drama doesn’t end there. Cosby will appear in court in 2022 to answer a civil lawsuit over claims he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl at the Playboy Mansion in 1974, a rep for the performer told Fox News Digital. The trial date has been set for April 18, 2022, and the actor plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination for all but just a few questions pertaining to his name, age and address of residence, according to his spokesperson Andrew Wyatt.
Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival tragedy
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Travis Scott, Live Nation and more organizers of the Nov. 5 Astroworld music festival after a reported crowd surge resulted in 10 dead and hundreds more injured.
Authorities have said 50,000 people attended the event in Houston, Texas. Over 300 people were treated at a field hospital on site at NRG Park, and at least 13 were later hospitalized.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña called the event “a mass casualty incident.” “The crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries,” the fire chief said. “People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic.”
Over 300 lawsuits that have been filed so far in Houston have been consolidated and will be handled by one judge as the cases proceed through the court system, a judicial board ruled in December.
Travis Scott performs at Day 1 of the Astroworld Music Festival at NRG Park on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Houston. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File)
The Board of Judges of the Civil Trial Division of the Harris County District Courts in Houston granted a request by attorney Brent Coon to have all pretrial matters in the various lawsuits be handled by one judge. If any of the lawsuits go to trial, the case would return to its original court.
“This consolidation will promote the expeditious and efficient administration of justice,” the two-page order said.
All pretrial motions and issues in the lawsuits will be heard by state District Judge Kristen Hawkins.
Coon, who is representing about 2,000 concertgoers and is asking for $10 billion in damages, made his consolidation request last month. He said that having all the cases before one judge will create efficiency, eliminate redundancy and spread costs in the cases to everyone involved in the litigation.
But the consolidation that was granted might conflict with a similar request made by lawyers for ASM Global Parent Inc. and its subsidiaries, which manage events at NRG Park, where the Astroworld festival was held.
Scott’s attorneys also filed his first response to several of the lawsuits, denying the accusations against him and asking that the cases be dismissed.
In his first-sit down interview with Charlamagne Tha God in December, Scott denied knowing fans were injured. “I didn’t know the exact details until minutes before the press conference [after my set],” the rapper alleged. “And even at that moment, you’re like, ‘Wait, what?’”
Scott went on to deny hearing any distress from the crowd that would have prompted him to stop the show sooner.
“It’s so crazy because I’m that artist too — anytime you can hear something like that, you want to stop the show,” Scott explained. “You want to make sure fans get the proper attention they need. Anytime I could see anything like that, I did. I stopped it a couple of times to just make sure everybody was OK. And I really just go off the fans’ energy as a collective — call and response. I just didn’t hear that.”
Alec Baldwin’s tragedy on ‘Rust’ movie set
Alec Baldwin‘s “Rust” movie became the center of tragedy when a fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins took place during a rehearsal for the film on Oct. 21.
Alec Baldwin claimed he did not pull the trigger in an interview regarding the fatal shooting on the set of “Rust.” (Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
Baldwin was starring and producing the film and has since been named in lawsuits filed by other crew members. The tragedy occurred on the Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s officials said Hutchins, 42, and director Joel Souza were shot on the film set in the desert on the southern outskirts of Santa Fe. Authorities confirmed that a firearm Baldwin, 63, was holding, killed Hutchins and wounded Souza, 48.
Baldwin has hired attorney Aaron S. Dyer of New York-based law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman after being named in multiple lawsuits for his involvement. The “30 Rock” star was targeted by lawsuits filed by script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and gaffer Serge Svetnoy.
This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Actor Alec Baldwin was holding a gun during a rehearsal on the set of a Western being filmed at the ranch on Thursday, Oct. 21. The incident resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong | Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)
The 63-year-old actor sat down with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News to recount what happened. One of the biggest revelations he made in the sit-down was that he didn’t pull the trigger.
“I let go of the hammer of the gun,” Baldwin described. “And the gun goes off.”
“I didn’t pull the trigger,” Baldwin reiterated.”I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them. Never.”
Baldwin said he didn’t know what had happened until he was in the police station, hours later. A police officer told Baldwin that a .45-caliber slug came out of Souza’s shoulder at the conclusion of his interview, he said. The police also confirmed Hutchins’ death to Baldwin at the end of the interview.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.