BOSTON - Following a three-day bench trial at U.S. District Court, Judge William Young advised the parties to try to settle the civil rights claim brought by husband and wife John and Ashley King against the Town of Ayer and Ayer Police Chief William Murray. In an apparent effort to do that, Ayer town counsel Leonard Kesten asked Young in a Dec. 4 filing to 'refrain from rendering a decision' in the case.
That evening, the Ayer Board of Selectmen met in executive session to discuss the trial that unfolded from Nov. 27 through Nov. 29. The outcome of any settlement talks remained unclear on Monday, Dec. 10.
The Kings claimed in "phase 1" of the trial that Murray violated John King's civil rights by allegedly stalling him from registering as a Level 3 sex offender intending to live in town, as required by state Sex Offender Registry law. The Kings allege Murray stalled in order to buy time until the town's more-restrictive bylaw could be put in full effect.
The new Ayer bylaw prohibits Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from establishing residence within 1,000 feet of public parks and elder housing complexes. Ashley King's parents bought their then-single daughter a single family home at 6 Whitcomb Avenue in June 2011.
In October 2011, Ayer Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted to approve the bylaw. The house in question is within 1,000 feet of both Pirone Park and the Pond Street elder housing complex.
In Feb. 2012, the Attorney General's Office advised town officials that the bylaw passed basic legal muster but warned that the constitutionality of such sex offender residency restrictions was not clear and that - in order to take effect- the bylaw needed to be publically posted in five places.
Ashley and John King married in March and John King visited the Ayer Police on April 19 to provide notice, under state law, of his intention to move into the Whitcomb Avenue home. King was advised that he needed proof of his intended residency, which could include a letter addressed to him.
Over the ensuing days, King's mother-in-law mailed a letter to John King at the Whitcomb Avenue address from out of state. On videotape of the May 1 selectmen's meeting, the court saw Canney advise the selectmen that the delay was due to detailed back-and-forth communication with the Attorney General's Office to ensure the posting was procedurally correct.
Canney ultimately posted the bylaw on April 24. King visited the department on April 25 with his self-addressed letter in hand. At that meeting, Murray advised King that the bylaw would prevent King's residency in his wife's Whitcomb Avenue home.
Judge Young advised on Nov. 29 that he'd issue his ruling on the 'phase 1' civil rights claim against Murray. If granted, the King's cause of action was to cease with damage assessment to follow.
If Young found that Murray did not violate the Kings' civil rights, then the Kings intended to move onto their 'phase 2' constitutionality challenge of the bylaw itself with testimony to resume on Dec. 18.
Murray testified that the Ayer bylaw borrows language from similarly-intended Fitchburg and Marlborough ordinances and so a finding that the Ayer bylaw is unconstitutional could lay a foundation for challenges of other local measures.
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.