BOSTON (AP) — Harassing neighbors is not a form of constitutionally protected free speech, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Tuesday in upholding the jail sentences of a former Andover couple who pestered their neighbors through fake Craigslist ads and a false child abuse report.

William Johnson was sentenced to serve 18 months in jail in December 2011 after he was convicted of criminal harassment and falsely reporting child abuse against Jim and Bernadette Lyons. His wife, Gail Johnson, served six months after she was convicted of criminal harassment.

The couple appealed, saying their actions ”“ helped by a friend who admitted placing fake Craigslist ads and sending the anonymous email at the behest of William Johnson ”“ were protected by the First Amendment.

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,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

The Johnsons also challenged state law as overly broad and vague, but the court wrote that the law “specifically criminalizes a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts … directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.”

The court also rejected several other arguments made by the Johnsons in an attempt to have their convictions overturned.

“My wife and I and our family are very gratified by this ruling,” Jim Lyons told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“These folks systematically tortured my wife and my sons and tried to ruin our business, and to this day they have not shown one ounce of remorse,” he said.

Lyons was later elected to the state House of Representatives as a Republican and currently represents Andover.

Robert Sinsheimer, who represented Johnson in his appeal, expressed disappointment with the court’s decision and said in a brief statement that lawyers were considering their options.

Sinsheimer previously said while “anti-social” and “sophomoric,” his clients’ actions were not threats.

Trouble between the once-friendly neighbors began in 2003, after William Johnson said he wanted to develop land he owned behind the Lyonses’ home. The Lyonses and other neighbors objected, and years of litigation followed.

The Lyonses said the harassment started in March 2008 when Bernadette Lyons came home and found 10 strangers milling around her driveway looking for free golf carts that had been offered on Craigslist.

Jim Lyons began getting phone calls late at night from people inquiring about a Harley Davidson motorcycle offered for sale on Craigslist. The couple also received an anonymous email containing their Social Security numbers and other personal information, along with a message: “Remember, if you aren’t miserable, I ain’t happy!”

State child protection workers also came to the Lyonses’ house after getting an anonymous tip that Jim Lyons was physically abusing their then-13-year-old son. The allegations were shown to be false.

The Johnsons are out of jail but no longer live in the neighborhood, Jim Lyons said.

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