State gives grant to lawyers suing New London

I've always been wary about the millions of dollars the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy has poured into its Small Business Express Program, given the failures of some of the recipient businesses.

I wonder why it should be the business of the state to lend and give money to small entrepreneurs, many setting out in new businesses, like a burrito shop or a paintball arena, that the state has no good means to evaluate.

And so I was especially intrigued to see on a list published this week of local recipients of the small business state grants and loans a Waterford law firm, Synodi & Videll LLC. The firm's grant is for $20,650.

Many in New London know the firm's partners for their involvement in city politics. Christine Synodi is a member of the Democratic Town Committee. Her husband and law partner, Gordon Videll, says he is a Democrat but he was briefly a Republican candidate last year for New London City Council.

Synodi is the attorney representing the New London police union president who is suing the city. She is also representing the former police officer who is suing the city because he claims his resignation, which came after he was accused of planting drugs on a suspect, was forced on him.

Synodi has also filed a notice of intent to sue New London on behalf of the estate of the city resident killed in a compactor accident at the transfer station.

The city finance director recently cited the compactor lawsuit as one of three contributing to an increase in insurance rates and a new deductible so high that the city will essentially be insuring itself.

Synodi & Videll is also suing Ledyard, on behalf of a woman who fell on a sidewalk in front of a town school. And they are suing Montville and the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority, over of an allegedly inadequate fire hydrant in front of a Montville shopping center that caught on fire.

So how did the state come to decide to give $20,000 to a law firm that is busy suing municipalities around southeastern Connecticut, positioning itself to profit from alleged government mistakes at the expense of taxpayers.

I understand the premise of the system that permits them to sue on behalf of their clients. But why should the people of Connecticut subsidize such a business?

When I met with Videll Tuesday he said the grant is part of a loan they used to purchase a building in Waterford. He said at first he did not know of a specific number of jobs the firm was required to fill, as part of the grant.

In addition to the two partners, the firm had one employee, added another as part of the move and plans to hire a third soon. He said he didn't know why the state listed the total number of employees, as the result of the grant, at six.

I later learned from Mark Cousineau, president of the Commmunity Investment Corp. of Hamden, the lender that helps the state administer the program, that the law firm is in fact required to have six employees and that a review will be conducted one year from the closing, which has not yet occurred, to be sure those employees are on board.

Videll called me back later Tuesday to confirm they are indeed required to have six employees and that he understands part or all of the grant money may have to be returned if they don't.

Cousineau explained the $20,000 grant is being matched by the law firm and will become part of a 10 percent down payment on the building purchase and renovations.

He said the program and this loan is focused on job creation. And in this instance the money to buy a new building is meant to create a larger work space for more employees.

Videll and Synodi logically took advantage of a government-backed lending program recommended by their banker.

The state's lender did its due diligence in making sure the applicants were qualified and made agreements insuring they will hire more employees.

I am sure no one paid attention to the fact that the state was subsidizing a firm in the business of suing taxpayers over bad sidewalks and a fatal trash compactor.

That's just another reason why the Malloy administration shouldn't be betting on winners and losers in the world of business. Stick to running a good government.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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