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Editorial: Denenberg should step back from Nassau duties

Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) speaks against a

Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) speaks against a plan to put a liquefied natural gas pipeline 60 miles south of Jones Beach State park on July 9, 2013, during a public hearing at the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Disturbing allegations of fraud against David Denenberg raise questions beyond his fitness as a candidate for the State Senate.

The veteran Nassau County legislator, a Democrat from Merrick, suddenly dropped out of one of the year's most closely watched races, one on which the Senate's balance of power might hinge, after his former law firm alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that he defrauded a client of $2 million by billing for legal services he never performed. Though unproven, these are serious allegations.

He was right to end his candidacy, although the politics and timing infusing this debacle stink. The lawsuit was filed the day after the deadline for accepting a judicial nomination, the only way under New York's idiotic election law -- other than death or moving out of state -- that a candidate can be removed from a ballot. But in the most stunning evidence that not even political pros know all the intricacies of our convoluted system, there is an exception which allows Democrats to name a new Senate candidate. The legal fraud that party leaders will commit involves nominating Denenberg for a judicial post on a minor party line if an existing candidate declines a nomination. Democrats have until Tuesday to find someone to replace Denenberg, who had a double-digit lead in polling against Republican opponent Michael Venditto.

Denenberg's Manhattan law firm, which he left last spring, is attempting to claw back $3.6 million in compensation, claiming he got annual bonuses based on bogus work. The suit accuses him of a "cold, calculated scheme" involving at least 374 acts of mail fraud over eight years and forged signatures of federal judges.

While he defends himself against the civil complaint and a possible criminal investigation, Denenberg should recuse himself from official duties on the Nassau legislature.