EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 4, 2013

Danville selectman returns to board

By Doug Ireland

---- — DANVILLE — Selectman Russell Harding has returned to the board while his assault case is still pending.

Harding, charged with assaulting a teenage boy, previously said he would continue to take his unpaid leave of absence until the case was resolved because he didn't want it to be a distraction.

But Harding returned in March for the town's Candidates Night and has attended two other meetings since, including one Monday, Selectmen's Chairman Shawn O'Neil said. Harding had not been to a meeting since September.

Harding, 35, was scheduled to appear in 10th Circuit Court in Plaistow on Feb. 21 for his trial on two misdemeanor simple assault charges. The trial was canceled when Harding's case was transferred to the Rockingham County attorney's office for further review.

Lawyers involved in the case met with the judge Tuesday, and Harding's trial in Rockingham Superior Court has been scheduled for the week of June 24.

If convicted, Harding could face a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for each assault charges. He has been free on $5,000 personal recognizance.

Harding was arrested by state police on charges he grabbed a teenage boy during Danville’s Movie Night on Aug. 18 and slammed his head against a table. The second-year selectman has pleaded not guilty, but admitted to a reporter he pushed the boy.

Harding said he pushed the teen the boy because he was trying to prevent him from damaging the town’s movie equipment.

Fellow selectmen say Harding's court case continues to be a distraction for the board and that he's been a passive member since his return, contributing little — if anything — to discussions.

"He's basically been sitting there and not doing anything," O'Neil said. "The board feels uncomfortable. I wish he would have just resigned before because he's a distraction."

The board asked Harding to resign last fall, but he refused.

Harding notified selectmen in November he was taking a leave of absence from the $250-a-month job. He later said he would not return until after Feb. 28, believing his case would have been resolved by then.

Selectman Christopher Giordano confronted Harding at the board's meeting March 18, asking why he had returned before his case was resolved.

Harding, who has refused to comment since his arrest, told the board he decided to return since his case was "open ended" and he didn't have a court date yet, O'Neil said.

O'Neil said he was surprised to find out later that Harding had a status conference in court Tuesday.

Giordano said Harding's presence on the board continues to be a disruption.

"I don't see any changes," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the distraction is still there."

Harding's attorney, Raymond Mello, could not be reached for comment.