CHICAGO | Kenneth Williams does not deny that 28 years ago he served 22 months in prison for aiding or inducing a forgery in Indiana.
That felony conviction remains on the Thornton Township High School District 205 School Board president's record. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office argues it qualifies as an “infamous crime” and makes him ineligible to serve on a school board. Williams has not been convicted of anything since and has gone on to develop the Silk ‘n’ Classy barber college, 804 E. Sibley Blvd., Dolton.
But whether Williams is ineligible to serve on the School Board to which he has twice been elected by voters is an issue that will have to be determined later this year.
Cook County Associate Judge Rita Novak last week rejected a motion by the state’s attorney to immediately remove Williams from office because of that conviction.
Not that the case is resolved. Novak also rejected a motion by Williams’ attorneys to dismiss the entire case. She said during court hearings the case is not clear cut.
“I think the case needs to be set up in its proper perspective,” Novak said.
Earlier this year, the Electoral Board that heard ballot challenges for the District 205 School Board heard the same allegations that Williams was ineligible because of his felony record, although the board did not rule on that particular issue.
The matter ultimately will be resolved by a jury trial because Novak accepted a motion by Williams’ attorneys to have a jury decide the case, which was what the state’s attorney’s office had wanted. She said it will be held “expeditiously,” but a date has not been scheduled.
The phrase “infamous crime” is a key one in this case because the state’s attorney’s office said that such offenses are signs of poor character that make individuals unqualified to serve, according to the state school code. The state’s election code also states that people convicted of criminal acts have to resign any electoral offices they may hold.
Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Sisivahn Baker said it is the combination of those two codes that are the basis for saying that Williams is ineligible to be a part of the School Board. That's even if voters elected him in 2009 and this year, the latter election in which he got more votes than any other School Board candidate.
“If he is convicted of an infamous crime, his seat is vacated upon being found ineligible,” Baker said.
Disagreeing was Matthew Dodge, an attorney hired by Williams to represent him after the school district’s legal counsel earlier this year hesitated to provide him with representation.
His argument centers around the idea that any elected official convicted of a crime would have to step down. But once the sentence was served in full, Williams’ rights were “reinstated” and he can now run for a school board post and serve if voters choose to have him. Williams could not be reached for comment.
The state’s attorney’s office always has said it was challenging Williams’ ability to be on a school board, and not his overall ability to run for office. In 2010, Williams ran unsuccessfully as a Green Party candidate for the Illinois House seat now held by Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City.
Dodge said he thinks that “aiding or inducing” a forgery is not, in and of itself an “infamous crime.” He also said he believes the Illinois statutes that created the phrase “infamous crime” as a condition for removing someone from office are too vague and too old because they were created by the General Assembly in the early 1950s.
“The definition of an ‘infamous’ crime or of ‘moral turpitude’ are not the same now as they were then,” Dodge said. “It does not warrant outing him from office for this very vague term.”
Dodge also said the school code, which does not mention removal from office, should take precedence over the election code when it comes to a school board. Although Baker said it “makes no sense” to consider only the school code without regards to the election laws.
“If it is read as one, the unified code reads very specific,” Baker said.