WINTERPORT, Maine — A two-term member of the SAD 22 school board has spent the last month in jail for violating a protection from abuse order and stalking a school district employee, according to Waldo County authorities and court documents.
Lance M. El-Hajj, 48, of Winterport is awaiting a Dec. 11 court date to enter a plea on charges of violation of a protection from abuse order, domestic stalking, and violations of conditions of release. The charges stem from complaints filed by an SAD 22 school system employee beginning in May. The school district includes Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh.
The employee, who had a prior relationship with El-Hajj that had ended in late 2011 or early 2012, filed a complaint Oct. 16 that El-Hajj, a father of four with two residences — one in Winterport and another on Swan Lake near the Searsport-Swanville town line — had violated terms of a protection order she obtained in July.
The protection order against him stemmed from harassment complaints by the woman in May and El-Hajj’s subsequent June 19 arraignment on charges of criminal trespass and harassment.
“As far as things go, this was relatively minor in terms of him coming by the house, coming inside, and sending e-mails. He was trying to repair a relationship that had gone south, basically,” Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said of the initial complaint in May.
According to Walker and district court documents, El-Hajj pleaded guilty to harassment on June 13 in exchange for a deferred disposition.
“The criminal trespass charge was dismissed, the guilty plea was continued for 10 months, and he was released on personal recognizance bail via a Volunteers of America contract requiring him to basically stay out of trouble and stay away from her,” Walker explained. “He could only have contact with the victim at school in regard to school activities in which his daughters are involved.”
Having had no prior criminal record, El-Hajj was eligible for the deferred disposition.
“If things had gone well at the end of the deferred agreement, he could have withdrawn his plea, and the [harassment] charge would have been dismissed,” said Walker.
Waldo County Sheriff’s Deputy Benjamin Seekins said things were going well, as far as he knew, until October.
“For the longest time, I would see him now and then and I heard nothing about him [in terms of any civil or criminal complaints],” said Seekins. “Then she called in a complaint. I met with her, she filled out a statement, and I also met with one of her children and a neighbor because it involved them.”
According to a court affidavit filed by Seekins, the woman said El-Hajj had driven by her house numerous times a day, had contacted her via email, and would usually stand near her when she was at school-related functions his children were part of. She went on to describe how El-Hajj, whose primary residence is listed as 252 Main St. in Winterport, contacted one of her children to ask who she was currently seeing and how he was treating her, as well as other personal information.
“This last time, it was more or less going by her house unnecessarily and some email exchanges,” said Seekins. “While the acts may not seem serious, they made her uncomfortable and she felt tormented and harassed. The bottom line is he was still stalking her months later after the May incident, and he had the option to walk away from this with no criminal record.”
El-Hajj. who is in the midst of the third year of his second consecutive three-year school board term, is being held without bail at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.
When asked how his current status could affect his position on the school board, SAD 22 Superintendent Rick Lyons said Thursday that it was his understanding something like that was up to the municipality a board member represents. El-Hajj is one of four members representing Winterport on the board, which is made up of 13 elected members and two student representatives.
As far as reaction to El-Hajj’s incarceration and ongoing case, Lyons withheld comment.
“I would consider this a personal and private situation and I would have no further comment,” he said Friday.
Winterport Town Manager Phil Pitula was unaware of El-Hajj’s arrest or details of it when notified about it Friday evening.
“This comes as quite a shock to me,” said Pitula. “That being said, I’d prefer to reserve comment about the situation.”
As far as how this affects El-Hajj’s school board membership, Pitula didn’t have a definitive answer.
“School board members are elected at town meetings, so I would say the Winterport Town Council is the judge of their own members and they have the right within the council to decide if their members are in good standing,” he said.