By Dustin Luca
---- — A nearly decade-long, bitter property feud between a state legislator and a neighbor in the Ballardvale section of Andover continues to play out in court.
The neighbors, William and Gail Johnson, are appealing their 2011 convictions for criminally harassing state Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, and his family in 2008. While the Johnsons have both already served jail time for their convictions, they are seeking to get their sentences overturned and clear their names.
The harassment charges — which included a false accusation of child molestation — followed Lyons’ vocal opposition to the Johnsons’ plans to build a 4,500-square-foot home on Reynolds Street on a site that backs up to the legislator’s 12 High Vale Lane home. The saga predates Lyons’ election to the Legislature in 2010.
The Essex County District Attorney’s office has until Oct. 25 to file a response to the Johnsons’ appeals, according to spokeswoman Carrie Kimball-Monahan.
As those appeals play out, the latest volley in the ongoing feud was served last week in Lawrence District Court, with William Johnson being accused by the Lyonses with violating the terms of his probation.
Lawrence District Court Judge Michael Brooks ruled for Johnson, saying that the “indirect contact” he had last month with Lyons’ family did not violate the no-contact order in his probation order.
But Brooks did order Johnson to stay away from his Reynolds Street property until he presents the court with “a plan to minimize contact” with the Lyons family. The court-ordered plan would require Johnson to let the Lyons family know when he expected to be on his land, Brooks said.
“Minimize contact, not eliminate,” Brooks told Johnson. “I’m not saying that the work can’t continue — you can’t be there for any reason.”
In addition to restricting contact with the Lyonses, the Johnsons, under the amended terms of their probation, are also prohibited from traveling on High Vale Lane, where they once lived. When the harassment charges were first brought, the Johnsons lived down the street from the Lyonses at 36 High Vale Lane and could only use the street to access their home. The couple has since moved to Reading.
According to last week’s court hearing, the Johnsons have bought the Reynolds Street property, which they had a purchase-and-sales agreement on for years, and are proceeding with construction of the house. The Planning Board has approved the house plans and police documents indicate the Johnsons have hired a contractor to clear trees on part of the property.
The site clearing is what led to the hearing. It triggered Bernadette Lyons’ curiosity. But when she went to take a look at the abutting property, she was “stunned” to see William Johnson through the woods talking to his contractor, Jim Lyons testified in court.
Johnson left the property as soon as he was spotted, but his presence led Jim Lyons to approach the contractor. What happened next is a point of contention.
According to police records, Johnson called police to report someone continually coming onto his property and “yelling at his workers.” Johnson also submitted a court affidavit from his contractor saying Lyons was “extremely loud and aggressive” while shouting that the work was being done on his property.
However, responding patrolman Brian Blouin’s report said that Jim Lyons “was non-confrontational and left the property without incident.” Blouin reported that Johnson then asked police to give Lyons a verbal no-trespass order. In response, Lyons told police “that he would be going to court to have Johnson `arrested.’”
In his report, Blouin concluded “that there was no criminal action committed on behalf of both parties and there will be no court action stemming from (the) incident.”
Jim Lyons said after the court hearing that the judge’s decision is what his family was looking for.
“There is no question that just (Johnson’s) being there previously has had a dramatic impact on our family,” Lyons said.
“The fact he decided to build a house in our backyard, we feel, is mind-boggling,” added Lyons, who is suing the Planning Board over an approved modification to the Johnsons’ house plans.
Johnson declined to comment last week, as did his lawyer, who withdrew from the case moments after the decision.
Meanwhile, the Johnsons are seeking to clear their name through the appeal of their convictions.
William Johnson was sentenced in 2011 to 2 1/2 years, with 18 months to be served followed by probation. Gail Johnson was sentenced to two years, with six months to be served followed by probation.
William Johnson also was found guilty of making a frivolous report of child abuse and fined $1,000. Gail Johnson was found not guilty of that charge. Identity fraud and conspiracy charges against both were dropped.