A plethora of nightlife options in Forest Park, many of which involve alcohol, can leave revelers with a bulging bladder and a distorted sense of what’s appropriate. As a result, police officers can expect to write a few tickets for public urination during late night patrols, almost as a matter of course.
But at a September adjudication hearing, one woman challenged this accusation when it was lodged against her and had the charge thrown out. In the early morning hours of July 20, the 25-year-old woman was ticketed for making an “unlawful deposit” behind a gas station. With the help of an attorney, she argued the village failed to define an unlawful deposit as urinating in public.
Now village officials are scrambling to put a new ordinance on the books that uses more narrow, if not crude, language.
“I suppose calling it an ‘unlawful deposit’ is a Victorian way of describing it,” said attorney Tom Bastian, who is rewriting the village’s code.
The term that supposedly restricts such behavior appears in a section of local ordinances regulating trash disposal. No mention of urine is made, but specific references to “garbage,” “refuse” and “waste” are included.
Under the heading of police and public safety, none of the codes make mention of public urination as a prohibited act.
“Although the Forest Park police officer’s citation attempts to employ a creative use of a village ordinance pertaining to the presence and removal of garbage and refuse, the ordinance cannot be violated when this respondent or any other person similarly charged engages in clandestine urination,” defense attorney Carlton Fisher argued in a written response to the citation.
Sharon O’Shea is the village prosecutor who handles the laundry list of local ordinance infractions at monthly adjudication hearings held at village hall. None of the cases will blemish an individual’s criminal record and the majority of defendants don’t hire an attorney. In a typical month O’Shea handles some 25 cases in which someone is charged with unlawfully depositing their urine.
This particular case never went before the hearings officer because O’Shea decided not to pursue the charge after reading Fisher’s brief. She could have won the case despite the ordinance’s use of an “archaic term,” O’Shea said, but with a full docket that evening it wasn’t worth her time.
“I’m sure that (ordinance) was done back in the ’50s,” O’Shea said. “It needed to be updated for a long time and that was just the push.”
She typically argues for a fine of $125 in such cases.
Fisher, however, said the decision not to prosecute his client has everything to do with O’Shea recognizing the deficiencies of the municipal code. He closed his three-page brief with a recommendation that the village write a better ordinance.
Bastian, an attorney with the village’s contracted law firm, is doing just that and agreed that any rule needs to “provide a reasonable idea” as to what is being outlawed. The new code will state explicitly that urinating in view of the public is not allowed. Further, the violation belongs in the same set of codes stipulating public nuisances, Bastian said, and not trash removal. He expects to present new language to the village council in early November.