Locked in a courtroom battle Thursday, Schaumburg officials tried to win a court order to forcibly clean the cluttered property of a man living in his driveway who argued passionately that village harassment is threatening to steal his livelihood.
Testimony in the jury trial demanded by resident John Wuerffel, 62, ended in the late afternoon Thursday, with closing arguments to begin Friday morning.
Wuerffel has been living in one of the vehicles in his driveway, unable to live inside his house on the 1400 block of Hampton Lane, which is in foreclosure proceedings and has all its utilities shut off.
Wuerffel, who's been unemployed for more than six years, represented himself in court while the village came armed with two attorneys and four witnesses.
Assistant Village Attorney Elmer Mannina, who recently marked 25 years with Schaumburg, told the judge he's never conducted a jury trial on a village ordinance violation.
Village attorneys presented numerous photographs detailing the clutter outside the home and the near impassibility of the packed, crumbling, moldy interior, as well as the testimony of inspectors as to why these represented public health hazards.
Wuerffel did not dispute the photographic evidence other than to point out that it ended on Aug. 31, implying that the condition of the property may have improved since then.
He did argue that the last time the village cleaned up his property through a court order, it disposed of both valuable merchandise as well as recyclable items that he currently relies on for money.
Wuerffel testified that village pressure is worsening his physical and mental health, as he suffers from both a heart condition and bipolar disorder. While argumentative in his cross-examination of other witnesses, he broke down and cried during his own time on the stand.
"Stop messing with me," he pleaded. "Just let me live my life, what's left of it!"
The village requested that the jury be taken by van to visit Wuerffel's home at Schaumburg's expense, but Wuerffel objected.
Cook County Associate Judge Hyman Riebman said he'd consider the request if contradictory evidence was presented, but the matter was later dropped.
Riebman questioned the village's legal position harshly before the trial, but often admonished Wuerffel during the proceedings that he was testifying when he was supposed to be cross-examining.
Three village inspectors and Wuerffel's next-door neighbor testified to the worsening conditions of the house Wuerffel has owned since 1971.
"As of today, it's filthy, disgusting and it smells," neighbor Margy Bedyk testified.
She added that she and her family have had to see Wuerffel go to the bathroom outside in both his front and backyard.
Wuerffel admitted that he has urinated outside his house, but on cross-examination got Bedyk to say she had no evidence that he's done anything else.
Nick Abdallah, a field supervisor for Schaumburg's health department came to court to observe the trial, but found himself called to the stand by Wuerffel as a hostile witness.
Abdallah said he'd first met Wuerffel while responding to an anonymous complaint and told him he needed to remove the garbage from his property.
Throughout testimony, Wuerffel objected any time one of the village's witnesses referred to the items on his property as "garbage."
Abdallah said he was aware that a box on the lawn that the village threw out from a previous cleanup contained CDs. But other witnesses said they had no knowledge of Wuerffel's further claims that boxed workout equipment, landscaping lumber and a 10-gallon Hinkley & Schmidt water bottle were among the items thrown out during a court-ordered cleanup in August 2009.
During the trial, Wuerffel is receiving moral support from the Schaumburg police department social worker who has been working with him, but she is playing no part in the court proceedings herself.
The three ordinance violations village attorneys are trying to prove are failure to keep the outside of the house free of rubbish, failure to keep the inside in sanitary condition and failure to maintain proper means of entrance and exit to the home.
Schaumburg Fire Inspector Bruce Buhrke described the house as a fire hazard that would put a firefighter's safety at risk due to the stacked clutter inside if it were necessary to enter the home to fight a fire. The bathroom, basement and much of the second floor are inaccessible because of the degree of clutter, inspectors testified.
The jury must convict Wuerffel of an ordinance violation for the judge to have the authority to order another cleanup of the property now that Wuerffel has won his demand for a jury trial.
Schaumburg's codes allow fines of $100 to $750 per violation per day, but village officials said they're not as interested in collecting fines from a broke resident as making sure the public health is protected.