Lawyer in ‘pyramid scheme’ endorsed for bench

A divided Judiciary Committee endorsed the judicial nomination Friday of Shelley A. Marcus after she defended her role as a legal adviser to women in Branford who ran a pyramid investment scheme, saying her “vehement” advice to them was to cease and desist.

Marcus, 61, the daughter of former Democratic State Chairman Ed Marcus, was peppered during a legislative confirmation hearing with questions arising from the recent fraud convictions of two women involved in the scheme.

The committee voted 28 to 12 to recommend her confirmation by the full legislature, but Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, who represents Branford, urged the committee to reject her as unqualified.

Marcus told the Judiciary Committee that the Marcus Law Firm, which is owned by her father and employs her, was approached by nearly two dozen women in her hometown after the attorney general’s office opened a civil investigation into their “gifting table” club.

“You never said it was legal,” said Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-Wilton. “Is that accurate?”

“Oh, that’s totally accurate,” Marcus replied.

O’Dea pressed, asking if she ever told them the scheme was illegal?

“Not using those words, but in so many words, yes,” Marcus said. “I told them it was most likely a violation of the statute.”

One of 15 lawyers up for confirmation Friday as a judge of the Superior Court, Marcus alone faced protracted questions about her qualifications and background, including her being called with her father as prosecution witnesses in the fraud case.

No legislator told her during questioning that she was unqualified, by Meyer was caustic in his appraisal of her qualifications during a brief debate over her nomination hours later. He noted she was not a partner in the family firm where she’s worked for decades.

“She almost described herself as a hired hand for her father,” Meyer said.

If confirmed for the bench, Meyer said, she would begin her career “muddied” by the pyramid case and a pending malpractice complaint filed against the Marcus Law Firm by the town of Branford over the firm’s handling of an eminent domain case.

Marcus said she had disclosed her role in the pyramid case in her application to the Judicial Selection Commission, which has veto power over potential nominees to the state’s trial and appellate courts, though her application was made prior to her being called as a witness.

Malloy said recently that Marcus did not disclose her involvement in the scheme to his office or that she was about to be called as a witness in a federal criminal trial. But Malloy said Thursday he saw no reason to withdraw her nomination.

It took Marcus three tries to be cleared by the commission. She told legislators she was deemed to have too little courtroom experience when she first applied, and the pending malpractice suit against her father’s firm was an issue the second time.