AP NEWS

Developer drops law firm to end controversy in Newtown

February 15, 2019

NEWTOWN — For two months, the town’s top elected leader argued in vain that the law firm representing the school board should not also be representing a developer that is suing Newtown.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said Newtowners shouldn’t have to pay Hartford-based Shipman & Goodwin $250,000 to represent the Board of Education while also spending money to defend a lawsuit brought by the same firm.

Now it turns out that taxpayers won’t have to.

The law firm is no longer representing a developer that sued Newtown’s Water and Sewer Authority in August over a decision that would restrict a residential development on Church Hill Road.

The reason: the developer dropped the firm.

“One of their attorneys that had been with us since the beginning left the firm, so we asked them to withdrawal from our case,” developer Serge Papageorge said Friday. “I told them, ‘We think it is better for us to seek new counsel.’”

Managing partners at Shipman & Goodwin could not be reached for comment.

Alan Lieberman, a managing partner, referred questions to Anne Littlefield, partner and general counsel, who did not return messages on Thursday and Friday.

From the beginning, the situation was complicated for the law firm, which represents 100 school boards across the state, and also has a substantial land use practice in Connecticut.

In letters to Newtown, Littlefield defended the law firm’s right to represent both the town’s Board of Education and a developer suing Newtown by saying school boards were separate enough entities from municipalities that there was no conflict of interest.

The matter was headed for a showdown on Tuesday, when Rosenthal planned to speak publicly with the school board about firing Shipman & Goodman.

On Friday, Rosenthal said that meeting was no longer necessary.

“They withdrew from the case, so I notified the Board of Education chairman that I do not intend to appear at the Feb. 19 meeting,” Rosenthal said. “You can’t represent the town and sue the town.”

The resolution does not mean that the developer has dropped his lawsuit over plans to build 175 apartments on Church Hill Road.

Papageorge said he wanted to work with the town, however, to reach an agreement.

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342