Man's suit against neighbors is rejected Jury denies damages for past prosecution

February 28, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

It was a neighborhood squabble that spun out of control -- and wound up in a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

After two Baltimore County juries did not convict Matthew P. Sefcik of indecent exposure in 1994, he turned around and sued six of his Ridgeleigh neighbors for malicious prosecution, seeking $12 million in damages.

Yesterday, after deliberating for five hours, a Baltimore County Circuit jury rejected Sefcik's claims and awarded no damages.

For six days, the two sides had squared off in the latest episode of a long-standing feud in their modest rowhouse community on the 8400 block of Water Oak Road near Towson.

Every day, the neighbors sat on one side of the courtroom behind their lawyers. Sefcik's mother, father, sister and brother sat on the other side, behind Sefcik, who was alone at the trial table, arguing his case without a lawyer.

Clean-cut and dressed in a dark suit, Sefcik, 43, questioned his neighbors for hours in a quiet, halting tone and listened to Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan's patient instructions about courtroom procedures.

Sefcik accused his neighbors of fabricating the indecent exposure claims, vindictively ruining his chances for employment and driving him out of the neighborhood, where he has not lived for the past two years.

Neighbors accused Sefcik of digging deep ditches in his yard, shouting profanities at neighbors, planting a bomblike device on a front step and performing a sex act naked in his window.

In his defense, Sefcik told the jury he was walking around his house in underwear but never intended for anyone to see him from the street.

In one of the more bizarre moments in the case, Sefcik's neighbors subpoenaed Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz.

Levitz was the judge in Sefcik's two criminal trials where the juries were unable to agree on a verdict on some charges and found him not guilty on others.

Levitz testified that if he had heard the case without a jury, he would have convicted Sefcik of indecent exposure.

"I was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Sefcik was guilty," said Levitz, adding, "I can count on one hand how many cases where I disagreed with the jury's findings."

Later, Sefcik called Levitz a "cold-hearted, insensitive judge" and told the jury during his closing statement, "Judge Levitz should never have made fun of those jurors. You can't find him credible."

At one point in the trial, Sefcik accused neighbor Jeffrey Hegberg of planting a bomb on his own front steps in 1994 "to try to blame me for it."

Hegberg appeared incredulous at Sefcik's accusation and answered, "I got my wife and 6-month-old son out of bed at 6 in the morning and went across the street" when he first saw the bomb. He noted that 20 members of the Fire Department and Police Department came to his house and took the device away. He never knew if it was a real bomb.

Stephen J. Nolan, a lawyer representing four of the six defendants, told the jury that Sefcik had "maliciously abused the court system" by filing his suit.

"He has no right to punish six good people of our community by filing this groundless suit," said Nolan.

In answering Sefcik's claims that the neighbors' accusations had prevented him from getting a job and living in his house, Nolan noted that Sefcik has been unemployed for some time and voluntarily moved from the neighborhood.

Sefcik, in his final words to the jury, said his neighbors picked on him "for everyday entertainment."

An award of damages "would change the attitudes of these people real fast. This is one obnoxious set of people," he said.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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