Blog Archive

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

SJC Upholds Convictions in Internet Harassment Case

You may have read in the Globe on December 24th that the SJC upheld the conviction of an Andover couple who harassed a neighbor via the internet. In Commonwealth v. William P. Johnson decided on December 23rd, The Johnsons were charged on October 16, 2008, in Lawrence District Court with making a false report of child abuse (G.L. c. 119, § 51A [c ] ); identity fraud (G.L. c. 266, § 37E); conspiracy (G.L. c. 274, § 7); and criminal harassment (G.L. c. 265, § 43A [a ] ). It all started when the Johnsons proposed to subdivide their land and their neighbors James (“Jim”) and Bernadette Lyons opposed the development.  In either late February or early March, 2008, William Johnson telephoned his friend Colton “and enlisted him to play a series of ‘pranks’ on Jim. The ideas for these ‘pranks’ were generated in several ways: (1) William would directly instruct Colton or convey ideas through Gail; (2) the Johnsons would provide information about the Lyons family to Colton so that he could use this information to harass them; or (3) the Johnsons would prompt Colton to think of ideas. Over the course of thirty-five days in late March and early April, 2008, the defendants, directly and through Colton, engaged in a series of acts directed at the Lyons family. The Commonwealth alleged four separate acts of harassment in addition to the false report of child abuse…” Com. v. Johnson, No. SJC-11660, 2014 WL 7261476, at *2 (Mass. Dec. 23, 2014). The defendants also posted fake ads on the internet that caused numerous people to call or go to the Lyonses home or call them late at night.

William Johnson was sentenced to 18 months behind bars; his wife was given a six-month sentence to serve.

We have seen circumstances when citizens who are opposed to a development have engaged in smear campaigns on social networks. And the Johnson decision will cut both ways when opponents to a project go beyond protected free speech and engage in harassment.
Paul F. Alphen, Esquire
Alphen & Santos, P.C.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly reported on the U.S. District Court case of Cohen v. Elephant Rock Beach Club Inc where a negligence suit was brought by a guest of a member of the Elephant Rock Beach Club. She swam 250’ out into the ocean and dove off a natural rock formation in the water within area owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As my mother would have warned me, she was injured when she jumped off the rock and smashed her foot on a submerged portion of the rock. It is indeed unfortunate that the Plaintiff was injured, and I wish her a speedy and complete recovery.

The Beach Club argued that it had no legal right to control the rock and therefore had no duty to warn people that swimming out to rock and jumping off the rock may be dangerous. The Court disagreed and reasoned that because the Club both encouraged and prohibited the use of the rock by guests by placing some ropes on floats near the rock and having the life guards whistle at swimmers to stay away from the rock in dangerous sea conditions.  The case will proceed to a jury.

So, this means that the Beach Club should have either (a) hired life guards to blow whistles all day long and yell at anybody who looked like they may swim out to the rock or (b) sought an Order of Conditions for permission to post a half dozen signs telling everyone to stay off the rock and then instructed the lifeguards to ignore those who swam out to the rock. They had already posted signs stating that use of the rock was at one’s own risk. May I recommend changing their name to “Stay Off the Elephant Rock Beach Club”?
Paul F. Alphen, Esquire
Alphen & Santos, P.C.