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Budd can decide on judicial run, 'qualified' or not

Democrat Marlene Budd is seen in this photo

Democrat Marlene Budd is seen in this photo from September 22, 2005 in Huntington. Photo Credit: Freelance / Howard Schnapp

Democratic Family Court Judge Marlene Budd is battling behind the scenes to overturn a Suffolk County Bar Association decision to deny her a qualified rating to run for a second term.

But because Democratic nominating petitions with Budd's name on them already have hit the streets, the decision to run rests with her alone, regardless of what the bar association says.

The situation is highly unusual because the Suffolk County Democratic Committee has long adhered voluntarily to a policy of not running judicial candidates who fail to get a qualified rating from the bar association.

However, this year the county Democratic convention, which nominated Budd for another term, was held a week before she appeared before the bar association screening committee.

"Because of the timing, she understands that she and I will meet if she does not get through her rehearing," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "Based on my conversations with her, I'm confident she understands the party will not support someone who is not found qualified." Schaffer declined to comment on whether Budd has offered to step aside if her appeal is unsuccessful.

The problem for the party is now that Budd's name is on petitions, only she, as the candidate, has the power to decline the nomination, and the party cannot remove her. She has three days after the party files those petitions in mid-July to make her decision.

If she withdraws from the Family Court race, a three-member committee on vacancies -- made up of Schaffer and party officials Deborah Monaco and James Langhorn -- would name a replacement on the ballot.

This isn't the first time Budd has had problems with the bar.

In 2011, she sought to run for state Supreme Court, but withdrew from consideration after appearing before the bar screening committee. Neither the bar association nor Budd would disclose the screening results, which remain confidential.

The current bar's action comes as Budd, 49, of South Setauket, and Rep. Steve Israel, married since 2003, are involved in a divorce. A spokesman for Israel (D-Huntington) had no comment.

Budd's appeal to the bar association is scheduled for June 24, according to sources. Privately, some bar officials say new rules adopted last year could make it more difficult to reverse the original ruling.

Former bar association president David Besso, who has helped reverse negative decisions for past judicial contenders, is representing Budd.

Some question the bar association's role in the process.

Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant mainly for Republicans, said Suffolk is one of few counties in the state where political parties voluntarily give "veto power" to the local bar. He noted that in Nassau, some judges have run and won even without the bar association's imprimatur.

"They are a fraternal organization of lawyers and the question is should anyone be able to come between the electorate and whom they can and can't vote for," Dawidziak said.


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