First posted 2/26/2009 9:38 a.m.

Longtime Oak Park environmental activist and political gadfly Les Golden was found guilty of criminal trespass to property following a bench trial at the Maybrook Courthouse last Wednesday.

Circuit Court Judge Gregory Ginex found that Golden had entered a construction site at Field Center, directly behind the Mann School building, on Nov. 1, 2007, after being verbally warned not to return by park district staff. Ginex set an April 6 sentencing date for the misdemeanor conviction.

Golden insisted prior to the verdict that he had done nothing wrong and would appeal. His lawyer, Steven Decker, argued that Golden had entered the construction site only to remove a bucket of silica sand that he contended posed an immediate and serious threat to the safety of children at the park’s preschool.

In his closing argument, Decker also contended that Mike Grandy, park district superintendent of Buildings & Grounds, had a well-established animosity toward Golden, and that he lied about previously warning Golden to stay off the construction site.

However, the prosecution brought in the general manager of the construction company to corroborate Grandy’s testimony and the testimony of two other people who said they saw Golden enter the site around noon, Nov. 1.

Throughout the trial, Golden and his attorney tried a number of tactics, including contending the state’s attorney had filed trespassing charges under the wrong statute. That motion for dismissal was denied by Ginex on Feb. 18.

The judge clearly wasn’t convinced by the variety of arguments Decker presented, including his contention that Golden’s entry onto the construction site was allowed under small print in the statute.

“The argument of the defendant is, ‘I didn’t trespass, but if I did, I have an excuse,'” Ginex said. “The defendant wants it both ways. Either there was a trespass and there’s an exception, or there was no trespass, and there’s no need for an exception.”

In the end, Ginex said it all came down to two things – whether Golden had been warned not to enter onto the property, and whether he did so on Nov. 1. He found that Grandy had, in fact, warned Golden to stay off. Despite finding that the corroborating testimony of one witness, the contractor’s general manager, was “somewhat impeached,” Ginex said whatever flaws were in that testimony did not overcome the testimony of two other people who testified they saw Golden on the property Nov. 1.

Calling Golden “a highly educated individual” who was “obviously very concerned with what occurred at the park district,” Ginex found that he had nonetheless entered with full knowledge that the area was restricted. The judge also rejected Golden’s contention that his action was justified under a subsection of the criminal trespass statute that allowed trespass in the event of imminent danger to others.

“This was clearly not an emergency,” said Ginex. “Mr. Golden chose to ignore the warnings for his own agenda, whatever that might be.”

Ginex gave Decker 30 days to file any post-trial motions before sentencing. While the conviction carries possible jail time in addition to fines, officials in the State’s Attorney’s Office said Ginex would consider Golden’s lack of criminal record and other mitigating factors at sentencing.

Ginex told Golden he had “absolutely no problem” with allowing him to remain free on bond. While not banning Golden from Field Center or any other park district property, Ginex stated that any contact by Golden with the park district between now and April 6 “should be minimal.”

Monday afternoon, the park district’s executive director, Gary Balling, said he regretted the situation escalating to the point it did, but pointed out that Golden pushed the issue. “Our concern has always been safety on the site, his and the workers,” said Balling. “We communicated that to Mr. Golden on a number of occasions, and he didn’t stop.”

Asked about comments by Golden and others regarding the financial resources expended prosecuting Golden, Balling said, “We haven’t spent a lot of money or resources. It’s been the state’s attorney who prosecuted this.”

Balling said the park district’s attorney did review all subpoenas served on park district staff, “as a matter of course,” but did not spend any other time on the case.

“We had them both completely impeached,” Golden said, outside the courtroom after the verdict last Wednesday, referring to the testimony of Grandy and the general manager.

Asked to comment after the verdict, prosecutor Ramon Moore said, “A crime was committed. I think the judge made the appropriate ruling.”

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