BOSTON -- The state Appeals Court will weigh in on whether the recall of two Townsend selectmen can proceed five months after the initial election was scheduled and then blocked by the courts.
Earlier this year, a single justice of the Appeals Court issued an injunction against the June 19 recall of Selectman Cindy King. His decision was upheld by a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court -- the state's highest court -- and a Middlesex Superior Court judge then blocked the related recall of Selectman Gordon Clark.
Recall supporters eventually appealed those decisions to a full panel of the state Appeals Court, prompting both cases to be heard before three judges Wednesday.
The courtroom was crowded, with roughly 30 recall supporters who made the trip down from Townsend filling benches before the hearing began. Clark was in attendance, but King was not.
Ira Zaleznik, an attorney representing recall supporters, argued that the election should be reinstated to allow voters to exercise their rights.
"That's the purpose of having a recall election: to leave it to the voters," he said.
The case hinges on the specific policies governing recalls in Townsend. A special act allowing recall lists several categories for which officials can be removed, such as neglect of duty and corruption, and then parenthetical descriptions afterward.
Recall supporters argue those descriptions are mere examples, whereas the selectmen argue they are strict guidelines into which that the allegations against them do not fit -- an argument that Appeals Court Justice Mark Green and Supreme Judicial Court Justice Elspeth Cypher upheld in June.
John Dombrowski, King's attorney, argued that the recall act in Townsend is a "unique statute" and that the reasons listed for King's removal were insufficient.
"The allegations against Ms. King are really complaints," he said.
The three Appeals Court justices -- Amy Lyn Blake, James Milkey and Sabita Singh -- did not issue a ruling immediately on Wednesday. However, they asked several pointed questions of both attorneys during the hearing.
Blake asked Dombrowski whether a constructionist reading of the recall act would be too specific, limiting sufficient wrongdoing to trigger removal to only a few explicit examples.
"That seems inconsistent with the purpose of the charter," she said. "It would be nearly impossible to list every conceivable act or inaction on the part of a selectman."
The King and Clark cases are closely related, but toward the end of the hearing, Zaleznik argued that there are significant differences between the two that should be considered.
The affidavit seeking Clark's recall listed two additional grounds: that he allegedly had a conflict of interest being involved in the hiring of a new police chief because his wife worked at the department and that he allegedly committed an Open Meeting Law violation.
Zaleznik argued those at a minimum are sufficient to allow a recall to take place.
It is unclear how the situation will proceed if the Appeals Court panel overrules the single justice and reinstates the recall. Clark's term is set to expire at the spring 2018 town election, and King's term expires the following year.
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