Neighbors’ 17-year squabble could end with jail time
West Bloomfield Township — A court-ordered no-contact order couldn’t contain the hostility between two Elder Road neighbors who have been feuding for 17 years.
Now, one of them — who once blared “La Cucaracha” on the musical horn of his riding lawn mower while cutting the grass — could face jail time for allegedly violating the order.
A hearing scheduled this week in an Oakland County court could decide what happens to James Cantini, 76, who pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace after the mowing incident last year.
“(Cantini) is a jolly guy who I guess was just trying to liven up an otherwise mundane task,” said Todd Kaluzny, Cantini’s attorney.
Law enforcement officials, who had repeatedly responded to complaints from Cantini and neighbor Michael Doyle about obscene hand gestures, dirty looks and missing sprinkler heads, weren’t amused.
They cited Cantini, who had no known criminal history, in June 2016 and charged him with disturbing the peace and harassment.
He pleaded to the first charge, had the second dismissed and was sentenced in September 2016 to one year of probation, a six-week anger management class and a psychological evaluation. He also was ordered to have no contact with the Doyles.
Cantini received credit for seven days spent in jail, and the case seemed to be settled.
But in May, the 66-year-old Doyle emailed the township attorney, listing a dozen dates on which he felt Cantini had ignored the court’s no-contact order. That led to the violation complaint.
Doyle declined to comment.
Kaluzny said he met separately with both men and their wives June 28 and drew up a “neighborly agreement” to keep the peace.
It included a promise they would not photograph or videotape each other and that there would be “no cat calls, bells, whistles, or musical horns, designed to be an annoyance to the other party.”
Both couples signed the agreement, the attorney said.
“We thought we had resolved the issue,” Kaluzny said. “We had an agreement that both men and their wives signed and the prosecutor – in a rare instance of cooperation between the prosecutor and defense counsel – which joined us in requesting dismissal of the complaint.”
But Judge Diane D’Agostini of 48th District Court refused to dismiss the case, saying that to do so would “usurp her authority,” Kaluzny said.
Instead, she scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
Kaluzny has filed an appeal with Oakland Circuit Judge Nanci Grant seeking a stay of the hearing. Grant declined late last week to consider the appeal, leading Kaluzny to file an emergency appeal Monday with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
A clerk for D’Agostini said the judge would not comment on a pending case. Township attorney Larry Sherman did not return a call from The News.
Court records show Cantini and Doyle have been involved in various disputes over the years – none resulting in fisticuffs but enough to prompt some police runs to their homes.
The feud began with disputes over the placement of stakes Cantini put up along the line separating their yards.
Another time, Doyle was ticked off about a security light Cantini put up that lit up the side of Doyle’s house. Other arguments were over missing lawn sprinkler heads (later returned after a visit by police).
Doyle complained Cantini drove his car in his direction as Doyle was walking down the street. Somebody stole someone else’s pumpkin out of their garden patch.
Both complained the other was photographing or videotaping the other or staring at them when out doing yard work – sometimes making rude remarks, such as, “I’m watching that bozo.”
Kaluzny said he went out to the neighbors’ homes three times and tried to resolve the conflicts by talking separately to both men.
At his client’s home, Kaluzny repositioned a motion detector light that Doyle said was shining into his home next door. Kaluzny also convinced Cantini to remove “No Trespassing” and “Smile you’re on camera” signs that were directed toward Doyle’s yard along a split rail fence.
Now, he says he’s worried that if the hearing ordered by D’Agostini goes ahead, the feud could start anew.
“ ... We may have a hearing that will be like pulling a Band-Aid off of a wound,” Kaluzny said. “In 20 years, I have never heard of a judge dismissing a prosecutor’s request to dismiss a probation violation offense.”