Naperville man cries fowl over $375 fine for wayward chicken

Published: 9/16/2010 5:28 PM

A Naperville man's feathers were more than a little ruffled Thursday when a DuPage County judge imposed a $375 fine for allowing at least one of his chickens to fly the coop.

Max Gartner insisted the wayward chicken didn't belong to him but, after a more-than-one-hour trial, Judge Neal Cerne found him guilty of allowing the bird to run uncontrolled off his Naperville farm.

Gartner, 62, was none too pleased with the hard-boiled fine.

He came close to being held in contempt of court after launching into a profanity-laced tirade, but instead left peacefully under the close watch of nearly a half dozen deputy sheriffs.

"There's no evidence (the chicken) is connected to me at all," said Gartner, who suggested he was framed. "How do you get a fair trial around here? I should have known better."

Barb Anthony, a DuPage County animal control officer, cited Gartner Sept. 23, 2009 after she spotted the chicken wandering near the road, just outside the man's farm near 87th Street and Modaff Road. Anthony said Gartner's farm has been the subject of other animal complaints through the years and she once found a dead duck in front of his property.

Anthony said she chased the clucking chicken back onto Gartner's property. Within minutes, Anthony said, she spotted another chicken - or perhaps the same bird - exit the farm and head toward the road.

Gartner, acting as his own attorney, said he only keeps ducks, geese, goats and sheep on his fenced-in farm. He said folks often drop off unwanted animals, including chickens, but he gives them to another man whom he described as "the chicken man."

Under cross-examination, Gartner asked Anthony if she could identify the chicken in question.

"It was reddish brown," the animal control officer said, "the size of a chicken. I'm not an expert, but it did look like a chicken to me, maybe a hen. They all look the same."

Prosecutors repeatedly objected to Gartner's questioning, on the grounds of relevance.

The trial's subject matter caused more than a few hushed chuckles in the courtroom gallery, but Gartner was not amused. Neither was the judge.

"If you're going to have animals on your property, it's your responsibility to take care of them," Cerne told Gartner. "Not only is it a health hazard, it's a safety hazard for drivers on that road."

It was not immediately known Thursday as to why the chicken or chickens tried to cross the road. Beside the $375 fine, Gartner also must pay unspecified court costs.

"They just want to write tickets so they can get all the money they can," Gartner said. "I would think the county has something better to do than harass a farmer who is just trying to take care of stuff. (The farm) is a haven for people who come out and see the place."