The Suffolk County Bar Association's board of directors has reversed a ruling by its judicial screening committee and has given Family Court Judge Marlene Budd a qualified rating for re-election.
The reversal comes after Budd, 49, of South Setauket, earlier this summer failed to get a qualified rating in her original appearance before the bar screening committee or in a later appeal before the same committee late last month.
The board of directors reversed the committee's earlier findings after Budd, a Democrat who serves as an acting state Supreme Court justice, and her attorney, David Besso, appeared for more than 2 1/2 hours at the association's Hauppauge headquarters Thursday night.
"Apparently there was a lack of communication between the candidate and judiciary committee," Besso said. "I believe the board of directors because of their impartiality was willing to listen and made a decision based on Marlene's fine legal career and great performance on the bench."
Besso said Budd declined to comment, but added "we're very gratified by the board of directors' decision."
Donna England, bar association president, confirmed the action of the 14-member board. She declined to say whether it was a unanimous decision or a split vote. "The bar association followed its procedures and as a result we found her qualified," she said.
The bar association's stand is significant because both of Suffolk's major political parties have voluntarily agreed not to nominate any candidate who fails to receive a qualified rating from the bar.
What made the situation unusual this year is that the Suffolk Democratic Committee nominated Budd in late May for re-election to a second term to the $174,000-a-year judgeship before she appeared before the bar's screening panel.
After the bar association's judicial committee's original "unqualified" finding, Rich Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he informed Budd that the party would not actively support her candidacy, if the decision was not reversed on appeal. Schaffer was unavailable for comment Friday.
However, while the appeal proceeded, party committee members circulated petitions for Budd's nomination, which were filed in mid-July, at which time she accepted the nomination. That meant she would be on the Democratic ballot line no matter what the association did.
Budd's problems with the bar came at the same time she is in the midst of a divorce from her estranged husband, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), whom she married in 2003.
Budd and Democratic Family court Judge Martha Luft are running against Republican George Harkin Jr. and Conservative Matthew Hughes for judgeships that carry 10-year terms.