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As a former general counsel and once a trustee of the beleaguered Milford Academy, state Sen. Winthop Smith Jr., D-Milford, seems to have a soft spot toward the private preparatory school. Or maybe he just wants to get paid. Smith, an attorney with Dey, Smith & Collier, said he wanted to help the city of Milford, Conn., and the academy by crafting special legislation that would allow the municipality to purchase the debt-ridden school through the issuance of bonds. But according to a recent Ethics Commission decision, because the academy owes an outstanding balance of $17,000 to Smith’s law firm, and because any outstanding debts would have to be paid under a proposed sale arrangement with the city, Smith is barred from being involved. Rosemary Giuliano, chairwoman of the commission, said Smith “had to believe or expect that his firm would receive a direct benefit from passage of such legislation,” and therefore “must refrain from official action on the matter and leave the task of bonding authority legislation to another Milford legislator.” A member of the legislature’s Finance Committee, its Bonding Subcommittee and the Bonding Commission, Smith stopped working for the academy just over a year ago because of nonpayment for his legal services. The academy, which has been plagued by mismanagement over the past several years, is now $1.5 million in debt to some 50 creditors, including Smith. A year ago, the academy secured a mortgage loan on the property in order to pay off its creditors, but even that effort was insufficient to overcome its financial problems, prompting foreclosure proceedings that began three months ago. In the commission’s decision, Giuliano considered whether the creditors of Milford Academy constituted a “group” under state statute and whether the potential benefit to Smith’s firm was a “direct” one under the same statute. Giuliano wrote that in analyzing the meaning of the word group, the commission was guided by the rule of statutory construction “ejusdem generis,” which requires that in construction of statutes the general terms of the law apply only to the same types of classes and those specifically enumerated. “Applying this analysis to the facts presented, the approximately fifty creditors of the Milford Academy are an insufficient class to constitute a ‘group’ as that term is utilized in § 1-85,” Giuliano wrote. Giuliano added, however, that if the legislation became part of a larger bonding or budget bill, Smith would be free to take action on the successor legislation, provided “he does not speak on the specific issue which created the conflict.” Smith called the commission’s complete ruling a “close call” and said he has enlisted three state representatives to try and get the legislation passed next year. “I am a little disappointed,” Smith said. “I was hoping to help the city. But I can’t. It is what it is.” However, such efforts may be too late, Smith said. The city had made several attempts at purchasing the academy in a $2.2 million deal that would allow the school to stay open by paying the city rent. But that deal may not see fruition, largely because under state statute the city cannot issue bonds for purchase of a private facility, according to Milford City Solicitor Marilyn Lipton and attorneys from Robinson & Cole, the city’s bond counsel. Smith was approached by the city to help pass enabling legislation after the city found out it could not bond for the money needed.

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