Neighbor in 17-year feud could end up back in court

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A West Bloomfield Township man who faced possible jail time for annoying his neighbor with a lawnmower horn serenade may be headed back to court.

James Cantini, 76, was cited about a year ago for disturbing the peace and put on probation with orders to not contact his neighbor, Michael Doyle, for a year after blaring out “La Cucaracha” on the musical horn of his riding lawnmower between their Elder Road homes. It was the latest in a 17-year exchange of salvos over property line and privacy disputes between the pair.

In a rare act of cooperation, township attorney Larry Sherman and Cantini’s lawyer, Todd Kaluzny, worked out an agreement — signed by the two neighbors — to end the feud and Sherman agreed to dismiss the criminal warrant.

But when Bloomfield 48th District Judge Diane D’Agostini learned of possible no-contact violations to conditions she had put on Cantini, she felt her authority was being usurped and ordered him back to court.

Sherman and Kaluzny filed a request with the Michigan Court of Appeals, which agreed Sherman had the power to dismiss possible probation violations in the case and ordered immediate dismissal by D’Agostini, who begrudgingly complied.

A three-judge panel in the case found the township attorney had “sole discretion to decide whether to pursue prosecution of an offense, including whether to pursue a probation violation.”

The appeals court order, signed by chief judge Mark Cavanagh, said the “constitutional separation of powers bar the trial court from interfering with the prosecutor’s decision” unless it is unconstitutional or illegal.

But the Bloomfield court and the Michigan District Judges Association, which represents judges across Michigan, filed a request last week with the Court of Appeals to reconsider its earlier dismissal order.

“The appeals court order was blatantly wrong,” said Ingham District Judge Tom Boyd, president of the judges association. “There is a separation of powers between the executive and judicial. Defense attorneys are excited now because they think they have negotiation powers involving dismissing cases rather than the judge.

“We are not seeking reconsideration because of this case, but a broader issue that the court has authority to effectuate its own orders and to enforce them,” Boyd said. “There is a flaw in a system which would allow two participants outside the court to decide that.”

Boyd said the request is expected to cost about $5,100 in attorney fees, to be paid by the association, whose members are funded by taxes from their respective cities.

Ironically, Cantini’s one-year probationary period expires in September, possibly before the Court of Appeals decides what — if anything — to do with the judges’ request.

Boyd said he asked D’Agostini to extend Cantini’s probation until the matter is resolved.

“Prosecutors, the defense bar, judges have been discussing this and are very concerned on the consequences moving forward,” said Lisa Speaker, the attorney for the judges.

Kaluzny thought that D’Agostini’s dismissal of the probation violation charge — as she was ordered — had put the matter to bed.

“I think this case is narrowly defined by the facts and the order of the Court of Appeals doesn’t have a precedential effect that the district court judges are concerned about,” he said. “Concerns that this might have repercussions for all violations of probation in all the district courts in the state of Michigan is unfounded.”