ELYRIA — Former Lorain Service Director Robert Gilchrist pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony marijuana possession charge as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that saw an additional drug trafficking charge against him dropped.
It’s actually the second time Gilchrist has taken the same plea for the charges stemming from his Oct. 23, 2014, arrest by the Ohio Highway Patrol. After originally taking the plea in July, Gilchrist withdrew it in September so he could pursue getting into an intervention program that, if successfully completed, would allow him to avoid a felony conviction.
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi, who Thursday placed Gilchrist on probation for one year, rejected placing Gilchrist in the intervention program.
“We’re going to file an appeal on the judge denying him intervention,” defense attorney Michael Stepanik said, adding that Gilchrist couldn’t challenge the judge’s decision on intervention until the case was closed.
A trooper arrested Gilchrist, who has a Michigan medical marijuana card, after he came upon Gilchrist’s vehicle stopped in the middle of Baumhart Road in Henrietta Township.
Prosecutors have said it appeared that Gilchrist had stopped to urinate on the side of the road, but told the trooper that he had a wobbly tire. The trooper ended up searching the vehicle and found three vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana inside a U.S. Postal Service bag on the floor and a fourth bag of pot behind the car’s left headlight assembly.
Stepanik previously said Gilchrist had the marijuana for his own personal use to treat medical conditions including anxiety and arthritis.
The legal case against Gilchrist lingered because Stepanik had hoped to find a way to help his client avoid a felony drug conviction that would prohibit him from going into the medical marijuana business in Michigan. Gilchrist said during a hearing earlier this year that financial problems also created barriers.
He also said that he didn’t realize that he had an addiction issue with marijuana until going to see a counselor but couldn’t say whether he’d use medical marijuana if he got into the intervention program, which requires those involved to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
This isn’t the first time Gilchrist has sought to enter a program that would leave him with a clear record once a criminal case against him was resolved.
He successfully completed a diversion program for illegally voting in the wrong Lorain city ward four times between 2009 and 2011.
The voting fraud case, as well as allegations of domestic violence for which he was never charged, led to him being fired from his job as head of the Lorain County Community Action Agency in 2011, a position he had left his city job to take.