By Dustin Luca
---- — LAWRENCE — State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, was back in court last week in the latest chapter in a nearly decade-long bitter property feud with a neighbor in the Ballardvale section of Andover.
In this latest volley, abutting property owner William Johnson was accused of violating the terms of a 2011 probation order in place after he and his wife were both convicted and served time for criminally harassing Lyons’ family in 2008.
The harassment — which included a false accusation of child molestation — followed Lyons’ vocal opposition to plans by Johnson and his wife 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.
Lawrence District Court Judge Michael Brooks sided with Johnson in a probation violation hearing Wednesday, ruling that the “indirect contact” he had last month with Lyons’ family did not violate the no-contact order that’s part of his probation.
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 Reynolds Street property during instances when his presence is necessary, 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 having no contact with the Lyonses, the Johnsons, under the terms of their probation, are prohibited from traveling on High Vale Lane. The Johnsons lived at 36 High Vale Lane, down the street from Lyons, when the harassment charges were first brought.
An amendment to the probation order that expired in mid-August previously allowed the Johnsons to be at the house at 36 High Vale Lane, which the couple have since sold, having now moved to Reading. They have, however, bought the Reynolds Street property, which they had a purchase-and-sales agreement on for years, and are proceeding with construction of the house.
According to the court hearing, the Planning Board has approved plans for the house 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 last week’s court hearing in a saga that predates Lyons’ election to the Legislature in 2010.
The site work triggered Bernadette Lyons to view the abutting property, during which she says she saw William Johnson through the woods talking to his contractor, Jim Lyons testified in court.
“She saw Bill Johnson, I would say about 25 to 40 feet away from her, which stunned her,” Lyons said.
Johnson left the property as soon as he saw Bernadette Lyons. Moments later, Jim Lyons came out to talk to the contractor.
What happened next is a point of contention.
According to police records, Johnson called police to report “someone keeps coming onto his property 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, a report by responding patrolman Brian Blouin 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,” he 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 yesterday, as did his lawyer, who withdrew from the case moments after Brooks issued his decision.
Meanwhile, the Johnsons have appealed their 2011 harassment convictions, despite having completed their jail sentences. The Essex County District Attorney’s office has until Oct. 25 to file a response to the appeal, according to spokeswoman Carrie Kimball-Monahan.
With the sentences already served, the appeal would clear the Johnsons’ name, according to Kimball-Monahan.
William Johnson was sentenced in 2011 to 21/2 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. Charges of identity fraud and conspiracy against both were dropped.