Hard-fought Quest For Solitude Brings Lessons In Law

Crownsville Farmer Pursues His Right To Be Left Alone

January 07, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Bouncing along the rocky, rutted dirt road into Francis M. Gasperich's Crownsville property, one develops the distinct impression that the man wants to be left alone.

"DO NOT ENTER ANYWHERE ALONG HERE UNLESS AUTHORIZED BY ME," warns a rusted sign nailed to a tree at the gate off St. Stephens Church Road. "NOT FOR DOG PICKUP, COON HUNTING, SIGHTSEEING OR ANY REASON. YOU WILL BE ARRESTED FOR TRESPASSING OR SHOT. GO BACK! GET OUT AND KEEP OUT. THIS MEANS YOU!"

Affixed to the gate are three more "No Trespassing" signs. Through the gate and across a clearing, the road winds through woods and upa hill, where the sight of a strange car set off two unleashed mongrels. They barked and barked and did not stop barking until Gasperich rolled up in a black AMC Hornet, raising behind him a cold cloud of dust.

Wearing a straw hat and a few days' gray stubble, Gasperich stepped from the car and called to the dogs to hush. He didn't say hello, good afternoon or good day. He went right to the business at hand: his battle to be left alone.

Since his father died in 1982, the 63-year-old tree surgeon and farmer has lived by himself on the 165-acre spread. And for more than 20 years, ever since Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. bought a 23-acre strip of his land for power lines, Gasperich said, he's been skirmishing with trespassers.

Although Gasperich sold two adjoining pieces of his property to the power company in 1961 and 1970, he retained the right to use the land as long as theuse doesn't interfere with BG&E. He also retained the right to presscharges against trespassers, which he said he's done about 12 times in 30 years.

Lately, his battle to be left alone has expanded. He's been conducting his own legal tussle with the county over his use of raw septic waste as fertilizer for his crop of exotic trees. He's also established a group called Citizens Against Lawbreaking Inspectors, in reaction to the state prosecutor's decision to drop a case against a county inspector who was found guilty last year in District Court of trespassing on Gasperich's land.

In response to inspector William E. Watkins' request for a Circuit Court trial, State's AttorneyFrank Weathersbee dropped the case last August, saying that pursuingit "will further no legitimate state goal."

The decision was a relief to Watkins -- who spent about $1,200 defending himself against the trespassing charge -- and an outrage to Gasperich.

He and the CALI group aim to see that county inspectors cannot bill the county for their court expenses. The group has been opposing a bill proposed by County Councilwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River, to reimburse county public safety employees or inspectors for their legal expenses in criminal proceedings.

Gasperich said about 75 people have joinedCALI, most of them farmers and land owners. They're concerned, Gasperich said, about county inspectors being set upon them by vindictive neighbors.

Gasperich claims he was targeted by the county because he testified on a neighbor's behalf in a court hearing. He's suspicious of the the county law department and has chosen to take the court battle into his own hands.

In the spring of 1990, after paying a lawyer more than $2,000, Gasperich decided to represent himself in hiscase against the county.

"It was starting to cost me a lot of money," said Gasperich, who peppers his conversation with Latin legalisms, the result of many hours in the state law library.

He keeps hislegal research materials in the Hornet, the front and back seats of which spill over with law books, briefs and photocopies of precedent-setting cases.

The effort paid off. Last month, Gasperich won a round in the state Court of Special Appeals. After considering his written and spoken arguments, the appellate court reversed the Circuit Court's dismissal of Gasperich's case against the county Department of Inspections and Permits. The case is back in Circuit Court, where it began in April 1990.

Gasperich wants the court to grant him relieffrom the stop-work order issued by the department in February 1990. The order was delivered by Inspector Watkins, whom Gasperich charged with trespassing.

That order barred Gasperich from having septic system pumping trucks dump raw waste on his land to nourish his Paulownia trees. It also barred him from repairing an earthen berm he builtup around the sewage pool. He ignored that part of the order, he said, as he did not want the material trickling away from the trees.

A state law has since taken effect barring land disposal of untreatedseptic waste. Assistant County Attorney Cheryl R. Boudreau, who has been handling the case, said it was not clear how it would affect theGasperich case.

She expressed some doubts about the tree surgeon-farmer turned amateur barrister.

"He takes it to the nth degree," said Boudreau. "On occasion, he's even correctly cited some things. One more occasions, he's incorrect. . . . There's a lot of people who think being a lawyer is just a big trick, and if you figure out the trick you win. I don't have time for that."

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