Harassment as free speech argument rejected by state’s highest court

Fake Craigslist ads, phony child abuse report not protected by 1st Amendment

BOSTON (AP) — The highest court in Massachusetts has upheld the convictions of an Andover couple convicted of harassing their neighbors through fake Craigslist ads and a false child abuse report.

William Johnson served 18 months in jail after he was convicted of criminal harassment and falsely reporting child abuse. Gail Johnson served six months after she was convicted of criminal harassment.

They appealed, saying their actions directed at Jim and Bernadette Lyons were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in its decision Tuesday that the Johnsons’ constitutional challenge “fails because the conduct in question was not protected speech, but rather a hybrid of conduct and speech integral to the commission of a crime.”

Jim Lyons says he is “gratified” by the decision. A lawyer for William Johnson was unavailable.

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