A Foot Down for A Step Up

Published: February 21, 2019 at 04:30 pm


He put his foot down, and it was not out of step.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal requested in early February that The Board of Education consider the legal firm retained by the board be released from its contract. It was not a move made lightly, as Shipman & Goodwin is a well respected firm that has earned the trust of the Board over the past four years of representation.

The first selectman took Shipman & Goodwin to task after discovering the firm was also representing a client suing the Town of Newtown. Mr Rosenthal justly saw this as an affront to the town and taxpayers. To date, the Board of Education has paid Shipman & Goodwin close to $700,000. For the town to have be on the defense in a suit brought by the Board’s legal representation, paying them on one hand while receiving a financial swipe at the same time was an insufferable insult.

Initial attempts by the first selectman and school officials to convince Shipman & Goodwin to pass over land use litigation cases against the town while representing the Board of Education were met with a steadfast claim by the company that it was within their rights to do so.

There is “no conflict of interest under Connecticut’s Code of Professional Conduct,” the firm’s deputy general counsel Anne Littlefield told Mr Rosenthal.

Just because one can do something does not mean that one should.

Fortunately, Mr Rosenthal’s plans to present his concerns to the Board of Education on February 19 and press for termination of the legal representation have been kicked aside, Shipman & Goodwin having notified Town Attorney David Grogins on February 14 — what a sweet Valentine’s Day message to receive — that the firm would no longer be representing the client in the land use lawsuit.

While Mr Rosenthal’s decision to be David to a legal Goliath may not be the sole reason for the firm’s decision, it is at the heart of a solution that benefits Newtown’s taxpayers.

This decision by the law firm, due to a lead attorney’s departure from the firm and not because of Mr Rosenthal’s request, according to Shipman & Goodwin’s statement to Town Attorney David Grogins, at least removes the burden from our school board of possibly jettisoning knowledgeable legal representation. Balancing the loss of the statewide board of education expertise of Shipman & Goodwin against the potential loss now and in the future if the law firm continued to represent land use disputes against the town would have been a challenging situation for board members.

Newtown residents can thank our first selectman for not only taking note of the conflict of interest, but for digging his heels in, convinced that wrongs must be made right.

Our first selectman is stepping in the right direction; and with budget season upon us, putting his foot down in this case assures us that he has the best interests of the townspeople at heart as he promotes a municipal budget he believes will make our town stronger.


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