First reported 4/16/2009 3:06 p.m.
Throughout Les Golden's trial on a criminal trespass charge, Judge Gregory Ginex repeatedly said the issue boiled down to a simple question of whether or not Golden had entered a construction site at Field Center in northwest Oak Park on Nov. 1, 2007, after being verbally warned not to return by park district staff.
Golden's lawyer, Steven Decker, argued the park district's superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, Mike Grandy, had lied about warning him to stay off the property. Ginex believed Grandy's testimony, and on Feb. 26 found Golden guilty of misdemeanor criminal trespass to property. Last Wednesday afternoon Ginex issued one final denial, rebutting each of seven objections one by one as he dismissed Golden's motion for a new trial.
Former Oak Park village president Clifford Osborn testified as a character witness, telling Ginex that Golden "has done some wonderful things for the village."
"He's been a person who's presented issues to the body politic of Oak Park," Osborn said, adding that Golden's ideas "don't always have a general acceptance within the community." Osborn also presented 12 newspaper articles and opinion pieces as evidence, which Ginex read during a recess.
Golden, who said by e-mail Monday that he'd prepared a 40,000 word clemency petition "in case [Ginex] was putting me in jail," sounded both contrite and nervous as he stood before the judge last Wednesday. He told Ginex the trial experience had been "the worst experience of my life," and acknowledged he had committed "an impulsive act of bad judgment."
"I thought I was doing the right thing. I realize now it wasn't the right thing," Golden said. He also apologized to Ginex for his frequently professorial and lecturing manner in court and thanked him for his patience.
Golden said he was done with being an activist, at least locally. "They don't have to worry about Les Golden being a critic anymore. I don't have the strength to continue. Let someone else take over the role."
Prosecutor Ramon Moore, who told Ginex that Golden had been sentenced to two year's supervision for a telephone harassment conviction in 2005, had asked Ginex to impose a sentence of conditional discharge, no harassing or unreasonable contact with park district staff or administration, and a mental health screening.
A clearly empathetic Ginex allowed the 65-year-old former academic a far softer landing. His sentencing comments echoed the opinions of both Golden's critics and his supporters. Calling Golden "extremely eloquent and very well spoken," "brilliant" and "a very involved individual," Ginex praised his qualifications and social commitment.
"In my eyes, you're something of a renaissance man," said Ginex. "You're not a criminal in this court's eyes. You committed an act of criminal trespass."
Ginex then urged Golden to look at the part of his personality that led him to feel justified in going too far and place himself in legal jeopardy.
"The problem comes in, Mr. Golden, where you think you have the only correct answer," Ginex counseled. "I think you realize now life is a series of compromises."
"Step back a minute, consider the other side and see their point of view. You might be able to work with these people," said Ginex, who noted that Golden had worked with Grandy in 2000 regarding a sod issue. "I think you should keep doing that."
Ginex sentenced Golden to a year of court supervision and 40 hours of community service, telling him if he completed the 40 hours of service by Oct. 21 and stayed out of any further legal trouble, the conviction will not go on his permanent record. Golden is free to do whatever community service he sees fit, Ginex said, within that time frame.
"My head is a little swimming," Golden replied afterward.
"I know he's not going to appeal the sentence," Decker told Ginex.
Appeal or not, in a series of e-mails commenting on the trial Monday morning, Golden was back to his old self. He strongly asserted his innocence, and ripped Grandy for lying in court, the judge for believing Grandy's testimony, and the park district staff and administration for a litany of perceived faults.
"Both the judge and my lawyer screwed up, and in so many contexts, and in addition, the Oak Park cops. Where do I start?" he wrote.
Praising Ginex as a "conscientious jurist [and] a strict constructionist," Golden never the less faulted him for "believing Grandy's lies." That, he wrote, "shows he either (1.) wanted to give the state a conviction for his report card ... or (2.) is a questionable evaluator of people. Worse, his decision served a horrible end: To condone the police state tactics of [Executive Director Gary] Balling and Grandy."