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Huntington GOP denies nod to judge in dispute over nominations

Judge Paul Hensley is shown on Tuesday, August

Judge Paul Hensley is shown on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 in Central Islip. Credit: Howard Schnapp, 2008

Huntington Town Republicans have denied renomination to a District Court judge who was censured in 2012, following a dispute with the town Conservative Party over judicial nominations.

Judge Paul M. Hensley, a Conservative first elected in 2002, plans to run on the Democratic, Conservative and Independence lines. In exchange, the town's Conservative Party will endorse two Democrats running for the bench.

Hensley had the Republican line the past two times he ran.

Hensley was censured in 2012 by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for attending illegal poker games in Northport. The day after his election, on Nov. 5, 2008, police raided a game where eight other poker players had gotten Hensley a "congratulatory ice cream cake" to celebrate Hensley's re-election.

Police arrested the operator of the game, but Hensley and other players were not arrested. Hensley agreed to the public reprimand and acknowledged misconduct. Playing in an illegal poker game is not a crime, but running one is, according to the commission's report.

Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Party, said the censure had little to do with Hensley's loss of the nomination this year.

She said the town GOP decided not to nominate Hensley because of a dispute with the town Conservative Party over how to fill three vacant District Court judgeships, including Hensley's seat.

"It never got to the point where we actually discussed it," Tepe said of the censure. But she said, "Would I engage in the behavior if I was a member of the judiciary? The answer is no. I think people hold the judiciary to a higher standard."

Tepe said town Conservative chairman Frank Tinari had committed to running a slate of candidates that included two Republicans and a Conservative in 2010. But this year, Tinari wanted a Democrat, Republican and Conservative to run.

"It was a breach of a commitment he [Tinari] made to me," Tepe said.

Tinari denied he had made a prior deal with Tepe. But he confirmed that he wanted a Democrat, Republican and Conservative slate of candidates.

"I don't understand why Toni Tepe wouldn't want to do a cross-endorsement for three good judges," Tinari said. "It just seems so reasonable and makes so much sense."

Hensley said Monday he did not know why he got some endorsements and not others.

"Judges don't get involved in politics. I'm not involved in any of that," he said. "I'm hoping the endorsements I receive are based upon my experience."

Asked about the public censure, he said, "I hope I'll be judged upon my experience as a judge since 2002."

Hensley, 53, of Northport, in the 2012 agreement with the commission, admitted that he "failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary by failing to maintain high standards of conduct."

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