A Lake County judge found Cuba Township Highway Commissioner Thomas Gooch not guilty Thursday of a battery charge filed after he tugged on the hair of a female township employee.
Circuit Court Judge Mark Levitt issued his verdict in a case that began with testimony on Sept. 26 and ended Thursday with Gooch as the final witness. Levitt said the prosecution didn't prove Gooch engaged in "insulting or provoking contact."
No one disputed Gooch, 62, of Lake Barrington, pulled Debra Broderick's hair just before she departed her job at Cuba Township headquarters March 11.
At issue was whether Gooch yanked Broderick's hair and pulled an earring from her left ear, causing injury.
Levitt noted that highway department administrative assistant Ann Baker was in the same office as Gooch and Broderick at the time, but didn't move when Gooch touched Broderick's hair. He said the lack of action defies logic if Gooch were trying to harm Broderick.
Gooch, who testified Thursday that he had previously dated Broderick, said he doesn't hold a grudge over the accusations.
"(The trial) was a humiliating and humbling experience, and it will probably make me a better person," he said after the verdict.
Gooch had insisted since his March arrest that his tug on Broderick's hair was a playful gesture, not battery.
He testified he and Broderick began dating in 2009, and hired her as the highway department's intergovernmental liaison in January 2010.
He also testified that Broderick's son was hired for a part-time highway department job in 2010. He said the son didn't report for work as scheduled March 11, and that Broderick may have become upset out of concern for his job's future.
Knowing Broderick was upset, Gooch brushed or tugged her hair before she left for the day, he testified.
"I said, 'Monday will be a better day,'" he said.
Gooch said he and Broderick no longer were dating -- but still were friends -- on March 11. He said she knew at the time he was planning to remarry his ex-wife, which occurred over the summer.
In September, Broderick testified the hair tug came after the two had argued over her refusal to wear a friendship ring Gooch had given her, and his belief she was lying about upcoming weekend plans. Gooch testified she returned the ring in February.
Baker testified that Gooch often tugged her hair as well, but always in a friendly manner, and said she did not see him to anything inappropriate toward Broderick on March 11.
Gooch, who also works as an attorney, would have faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine if he had been convicted of the misdemeanor battery charge. He also would have been eligible for court supervision.