Lawmakers responsible for the fate of a local lawyer’s judgeship say they haven’t made up their minds yet about whether to confirm her in light of her role in a shoreline “gifting table.”
The judge-in-waiting is Shelley Marcus, who practices law with her dad, Ed Marcus, at the Marcus Law Firm in North Branford. She is facing two lines of questioning these days: first from federal prosecutors inquiring into advice she gave to clients involved in an alleged shoreline “gifting table” scam, then from a panel of state legislators considering her fitness to serve as a state judge.
Shelley Marcus testified Monday in an ongoing trial in federal court about a gifting table group, which prosecutors describe as an illegal pyramid scheme. Two main organizers of the scheme are currently on trial in federal court and another has pleaded guilty. Marcus gave legal advice to some members of the group after the state attorney general began to investigate. Marcus has not been charged with any crime; at issue is whether or not she told clients the scheme was legal.
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In court Monday, Shelley Marcus denied that she had advised the defendants that the gifting table scheme was legal, according to the Hartford Courant. A lawyer at her firm repeated that account Thursday in a statement released to the Independent.
“No one at the Marcus Law Firm ever advised any of our clients that the gifting table club was legal,” stated Attorney David Doyle. “The firm’s lawyers have testified and several other witnesses have testified that we never advised them that this activity was legal.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated Marcus on Jan. 24 to become a Superior Court judge. A panel of lawmakers on the state Judiciary Committee is set to hold a confirmation hearing, though a date has not yet been set. If confirmed by that committee, her nomination would need to also be approved by the full state Senate and House.
State Sen. Ed Meyer, who represents Branford and other shoreline towns and sits on the Judiciary Committee, called the gifting table probe “relevant” to Marcus’ fitness as a state judge.
But “I don’t think we have enough information to know” whether it will affect her confirmation, Meyer said.
“The Judiciary Committee should weigh the background of all judicial nominees,” agreed Doyle, the lawyer at Marcus’ firm. But he said Marcus did nothing wrong.
“The Marcus Law Firm represented clients in a civil investigation being conducted by the attorney general’s office into the gifting tables,” Doyle stated. “The firm was retained for no other purposes and was successful in arriving at a resolution for every client that wished to participate in a settlement with the attorney general. The defendants in the existing tax evasion and wire fraud case are being charged with actions that occurred before the Marcus Law Firm was ever retained. They participated in the tables for years before hiring the Marcus Law Firm and their guilt or innocence will not turn on anything that the Marcus Law Firm did or did not do or said or did not say.
“Yes, the Judiciary Committee and the General Assembly must weigh all factors relative to a judicial nominee, and, the fact is that The Marcus Law Firm achieved a successful resolution for clients in a very difficult situation. The Marcus Law Firm did nothing wrong when representing these women.”
Ed Marcus previously told the New Haven Register he advised clients the gifting table was legal; he later changed his mind.
Three New Haven legislators who also sit on the Judiciary Committee said they are keeping an open mind about Shelley Marcus.
State Rep. Toni Walker (pictured) said the Judiciary Committee plans to discuss the gifting table matter as it relates to Marcus. “I don’t know” if her involvement will sink the confirmation, she said.
“I hope it doesn’t,” Walker said. “I’ve known Shelley for a long time. We do a lot of things, sometimes not knowing. I hope that this will not hurt her in her career.”
“It’s possible” that the gifting table trial will hurt Marcus’ chances, said state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (pictured), but it’s too soon to tell. He said his support is “contingent on how she answers questions” and presents herself during questions before the panel.
State Rep. Pat Dillon said she personally doesn’t have an opinion on Marcus’ qualifications for the bench.
“The trial is still ongoing,” she said. “There’s an instinct to let it play out” before making a decision on her confirmation.
A gifting table is described by the U.S. Attorney’s office as a four-level pyramid, with eight participants assigned to the bottom row, four participants assigned to the third row, two participants assigned to the second row, and one participant assigned to the top row, the “dessert” of the dinner. Those below are “Entrees,” and those below them are “Soup and Salads.” The lowest rung, the eight who join by each giving $5,000 to the dessert, are known as the “Appetizers.” The table is dependent upon new participants coming in and paying $5,000 to the person in the “dessert” position, thus enabling the others to move up. Those reaching the top of the pyramid got $40,000. Two of the major organizers of one such table on the shoreline are currently on trial in U.S. District Court in Hartford. The third pleaded guilty last month and is expected to be sentenced in federal court in March.