State Sen. Suzi Schmidt was found not guilty of walking onto her neighbor's land and puncturing a bag of chicken feed during a dispute, Lake County Judge George Strickland ruled Wednesday.
However, a civil order of protection remains in place by the neighbors against Schmidt, 61, a Lake Villa Township Republican. It will be reviewed by Strickland and attorneys Nov. 2.
"I'm happy this part is over, though it's sad that it had to turn out this way," Schmidt said. "It's sad that a dispute between neighbors got to this point."
She was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and criminal property damage less than $300 after she was accused of walking onto her neighbor's property June 2 and, in a fit of rage, ripping open a bag of chicken feed on the property and throwing a set of oars into a nearby swamp.
But defense attorney Charles Schneider of Buffalo Grove said the bag she allegedly ripped had only two dime-sized puncture holes in it, and Schmidt wasn't strong enough to puncture the bag on her own.
In addition, he said, Schmidt knocked on the door of the home looking for a ladder that could have been loaned to the neighbor by Schmidt's now-estranged husband Bob, and she went onto the property only along a pathway that residents in the subdivision commonly use.
Strickland said prosecutors didn't prove Schmidt was told to stay away from the neighbors' home, which is required under law to prove criminal trespassing.
"Clearly, there are axes to grind by both parties in this situation," he said.
The Daily Herald has not identified the neighbors in order to protect the children involved in the dispute.
Schmidt took the stand in her own defense and admitted her friendship with the neighbors had deteriorated in recent years after she learned her husband, Robert, was having an extramarital affair with the female neighbor.
The female neighbor has routinely denied having a relationship with Schmidt's husband. Court records show Schmidt and her husband are separated and divorce papers have been filed.
A warrant for Schmidt's arrest was issued June 9 after police said neighbors complained to them about the trespassing.
Schmidt was arrested and charged with the misdemeanor counts. She was released after posting 10 percent of her $5,000 bail the same day.
According to police reports obtained after Schmidt's June 12 arrest, neighbors told police they had received multiple harassing phone calls, text messages and emails from Schmidt between December 2010 and February 2012.
The order of protection obtained after Schmidt's arrest initially required her to stay 500 feet from the victims. That order was modified twice to allow Schmidt access to her home and to help an elderly neighbor.
Lake County Republican Party chief Bob Cook called the verdict "fantastic."
"I'm really happy that this turned out well for Suzi," Cook said. "Maybe we can start talking about the issues again."
Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman, who succeeded Schmidt in that post, said he knew she'd be vindicated.
"I always in my heart knew she wouldn't be doing anything (like) what was described," Stolman said.
The situation grew because of politics, he said.
State Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan, the Lake County Democratic Party chairman, said he was pleased with the verdict and thought the situation should not have escalated beyond a personal matter.
Link said the accusations against Schmidt didn't affect her work in the Senate.
"No one passed judgment on her like, 'Oh my God, she's a terrible woman and no one wanted to talk to her,'" Link said.
Schmidt continues to serve in the 31st District, though she chose not to seek re-election this year after facing questions last fall about whether she abused her political influence during a domestic dispute with her estranged husband.
Joe Neal, a 44-year-old Republican from Wadsworth, is facing Democrat Melinda Bush, 56, of Grayslake in the Nov. 6 race for the District 31 seat.
Schmidt's arrest wasn't the first time she had a run-in with the law over her estranged husband.
On Christmas Day 2010, Schmidt called 911 and told a dispatcher to ignore calls for help from her husband, Robert, whom she had locked out of their home. Schmidt then told the dispatcher her husband is afraid of her "because he knows I have connections."
• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.