Though Schaumburg attorneys Friday successfully proved that a man living in his own driveway was guilty of cluttering the inside and outside of his house, they failed to win the court order to clean up the property which had been their main goal.
A jury of six men and six women found 62-year-old John Wuerffel of the 1400 block of Hampton Lane guilty of not keeping the outside of his home free of trash, not keeping the inside in a sanitary condition and not maintaining proper means to enter and leave the house.
Cook County Associate Judge Hyman Riebman imposed a $1,200 fine on Wuerffel - $200 for each of six days that village of Schaumburg recorded evidence of the property's unkempt condition.
But Riebman refused to issue a court order allowing the village to clean up the property because he said attorneys hadn't properly requested that form of relief at the start of the case.
Schaumburg Assistant Village Attorney Elmer Mannina said he planned to file a post-trial motion to have such a request added to the case and the jury's finding of guilt.
Wuerffel's case was unique not only for being what Mannina believed to be the first instance of a jury trial being demanded for a housing code violation in the Third District of Cook County, but for an essentially homeless man representing himself in the case.
Wuerffel has been living in one of the vehicles in his driveway, unable to live inside his house which is in foreclosure proceedings and has all its utilities shut off.
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, who's been unemployed for more than six years, argued that the recyclable items on his property are his livelihood as they can be redeemed for money. He disputed the village's contention that it was all garbage to be thrown out.
"I'm not a hoarder, I'm not a pack rat, I'm a scrapper," Wuerffel said, during closing arguments Friday morning.
Mannina asked jurors to focus on the facts of the case and not Wuerffel's emotional claims.
"Just use your own life experience and own common sense and it hits home what we're trying to show is going on in the neighborhood," Mannina said. "Maybe it's a good message we'll send to John. Maybe it's an impetus to help himself."
After the verdict was read, Riebman addressed the theme of "One man's trash is another man's treasure," which Wuerffel had frequently touched upon in his testimony.
Riebman said that while the old saying is sometimes valid, Wuerffel had clearly crossed the line and imposed on the rights of his neighbors.
"You create a serious public nuisance to the community," Riebman said. "You create a serious public hazard. I don't believe what you did was in a malicious fashion, but just the same your actions - if not willful - were selfish."
Wuerffel said he plans to talk again with his mortgage company in an attempt to refinance and keep his home, though he has no plans to turn the utilities on or move back in.
He said he plans to ask the village for time to clean up his backyard just as he's recently straightened up the front of the house, though he still disputes the authority the village is seeking to clean the interior.
Al Barucca, Wuerffel's neighbor across the street, attested to the fact that Wuerffel has made an effort to clean up the front of the house and that he has covered the rundown vehicles parked in the driveway.
Barucca said he has no argument with Wuerffel other than the outside appearance of the property, adding that Wuerffel is an otherwise quiet neighbor who minds his own business.