Homeowner Sharon Smith was found guilty last Wednesday of two of the four citations she received after a birthday party at her house, 430 S. Taylor Ave., led to a rowdy brawl by dozens of teenaged party goers. That fight took seven police officers to quiet on March 11. Associate Circuit Court Judge James Albert Zafiratos fined Smith $400 each for a public nuisance citation and a citation for conducting a business at her home without a business license. In addition, Smith was given six months court supervision and ordered to perform 30 hours of community service. Two other local ordinance citations related to the incident were dismissed.
According to Resident Beat Officer Paul Razzino, Smith had been offered mediation instead of court on the ordinances, but had declined.
"I believe her words were 'I'll have my day in court," said Razzino.
Smith had her day, and now must perform the 30 hours of community service by the time she returns to court on Sept. 7. She has until January 4, 2006, when she completes her term of court supervision, to pay the $800 fine.
Smith acted as her own lawyer Wednesday, resulting in a two hour trial during which she struggled unsuccessfully to match the lawyering of Simone Boutet, the Oak Park village assistant prosecuting attorney. Smith was also interrupted several dozen times by objections from Boutet on grounds of relevance and legal propriety, most of which were sustained by the judge.
Smith also spent a considerable amount of time repeatedly attempting to defend herself against the testimony of Razzino that she appeared intoxicated the night of the party. Being intoxicated in one's own home is not illegal, Smith hadn't been charged with anything related to that, and the village did not raise it as an issue at the trial.
At another point Smith, referring to two minors who had allegedly been fighting in her house during the party, asked Razzino, "Are you aware that they are members of the OPRF football team?"
"Relevance?" challenged Boutet.
An hour into the trial, a slightly exasperated Zafiratos told Smith, "I've given you a lot of leeway because you're not a lawyer. But now you're going to have to tighten it up, ma'am."
Smith and her two daughters, Serena and Sereta, who she called as defense witnesses, repeatedly denied that they had charged admission to the party, the basis for the village's charge of conducting business without a license. However, Boutet was able to establish that Smith knew of a flyer advertising the party which was distributed at Oak Park and River Forest High School prior to the event, ironically through defense witness testimony, rather than any direct evidence.
Razzino and the two other Oak Park police officers who testified estimated the number of partyers at Smith's house on March 11 at anywhere between 60 to 150, and characterized their behavior as variously "rowdy" "loud" and unresponsive to police directions. Smith and her other witnesses insisted there were no more than 50 people present?#34;at most 60?#34;and that she had made reasonable efforts to avoid problems.
Zafiratos clearly didn't buy Smith's arguments.
In finding her guilty of the first violation, Zafiratos told Smith, who had expressed dismay that she was being unfairly cast in a bad light, "No one is saying you're not a good person. But you allowed a situation to develop that (turned bad)." Allowing the flyers to be distributed, he said, had been a "recipe for disaster."
In finding her guilty on the second count, Zafiratos said he was convinced that the party had been funded by the "donations" of people attending the party, and as such Smith had conducted a business without a license.
The judge also emphasized that Smith must maintain a clean record between now and the termination of her court supervision, telling her, "Any issue between now and January 4, and you can be re-sentenced."
Both the village's Boutet and Smith declined to comment on the case afterwards.
Officer Razzino said that he hopes the verdict will put an end to nearly three years of problems on the 400 block of South Taylor that have taken considerable amounts of his on-duty time.
"It's a huge victory for the residents of the block," said Razzino, "and a sign that these people can't carry on like they have."
John FS Williams, executive director of Oak Park Township Youth services, sat through the trial as an observer. He too applauded the judge's decision, saying it would help confirm community standards.
"I think it's an important outcome in terms of setting a tone," he said." It affirms what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable in terms of what will be allowed in the community."