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Judicial Nominee Approved After 'Arm-Twisting'
The Connecticut Law Tribune
The most controversial of 15 new candidates for Superior Court, Shelley Marcus, of North Branford, was approved for a judgeship last week, despite bipartisan calls for an investigation into cases she handled as a lawyer.
The House, which confirmed all the other judicial candidates overwhelmingly, approved Marcus by an unusually divided 79 to 54 vote, with 18 members absent and not voting. She was approved by the Senate 31 to 4.
Marcus, 61, works in the North Branford law firm headed by her father, Edward Marcus, 84, a former state Democratic Party chairman and the firm's only partner. At the legislative Judiciary Committee, on March 1, she was questioned specifically about two clients who were recently convicted of criminal tax fraud charges in federal court, Donna Bello and Jill Platt, both of Guilford.
As a subpoenaed witness for the prosecution, Marcus testified in the criminal trial that, in 2009, she advised that a social club's "gifting tables" activities were neither clearly legal nor clearly illegal. Participants paid "gifts" of $5,000 to other members to get onto the bottom rung of the table. After others joined, and made their payments, those on the fourth level of the tables received a $40,000 payout. It was promoted as income-tax free, as a tax-exempt gift.
But federal prosecutors in February convinced a jury that the program was actually an illegal pyramid scheme and a tax fraud. During confirmation hearings on March 1, Marcus told the legislative Judiciary Committee that, while she didn't call the scheme "illegal," she did advise participants that it probably violated the state's contingent transactions act, just as an illegal private lottery would.
Lawmakers also quizzed her about a legal malpractice case currently pending against another lawyer in the Marcus Law firm.
The firm represented the Town of Branford during a period when developers were attempting to gain permits to build on arguably polluted property. Marcus testified that her involvement in representing Branford was minimal. At one point, she told the Judiciary Committee, she stood in for the first selectman during a court mediation session. She specifically said she was not functioning as an attorney or advocate.
When a lawyer in her firm was subsequently sued for malpractice by Branford for negligence in preparing the eminent domain case for trial, Marcus distanced herself by saying her only involvement was in a non-lawyer capacity. "I wasn't necessarily representing the interests of the town of Branford," she told the committee.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, was perplexed by her answers. "It's questionable whether that's allowable or ethical," she said.
Also puzzled was Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury. "I don't think a lawyer can function as a surrogate client the lawyer and client roles are very distinct and different," he said in an interview.
O'Neil asked that the Judiciary Committee delay the vote so it could look into Marcus's conduct. The committee rejected that motion and then voted 28-12 to send Marcus' nomination on to the House and Senate.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, is a former federal prosecutor. He said he voted against Marcus in the Judiciary Committee on the basis of her answers about her gifting table involvement, and her answers about her role in the town mediation.
Before the March 6 vote in the Senate, Meyer said pressure was being exerted by the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy, and legislative leadership, to assure Marcus was approved.
"This is a very bad situation here where people don't want to look at the competence and integrity issues here, and people just want to get through this" with a vote, said Meyer. "There's a lot of arm-twisting and it's not a good situation."
Meyer said he had perused more than 200 pages of transcript from the gifting trial testimony. "I read that she was paid $55,000 for seven months' work, but had not even given her clients a professional opinion about whether the gifting tables were legal or illegal," he said.
"To take that size of a fee, and not advise about the legality or illegality of the scheme ... raises very serious questions about her competence," Meyer said.
A phone call to the Marcus Law Firm seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Other judicial nominees approved by the legislature included Appellate Court nominee Christine Keller of Hartford, and Superior Court nominees Michael Albis, of East Haven; Thomas Colin, of Ridgefield; Melanie Cradle, of Middlefield; Karen Goodrow, of Chester; Sheila Huddleston, of West Hartford; Robyn Stewart Johnson, of Glastonbury; Michael Kamp, of Hamden; Charles Lee, of Greenwich; Jason Lobo, of Suffield; Maurice Mosley, of Waterbury; Thomas Moukawsher, of Groton; Andrew Roraback, of Goshen; Hope Seeley, of Coventry; and Anthony Truglia, of Stamford.