MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A Democratic Senate candidate who quit the race after being sued by his former law firm for allegedly creating $2 million in fictitious client bills and falsifying expenses may run for office in November as a judicial candidate only as a technical maneuver that would remove his name from the Senate ballot, allowing his party to replace him in that race.
David Denenberg, who has served as a Nassau County legislator since 1999, said Wednesday that if he happened to win the judgeship, he would not accept the position.
Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said Wednesday he is considering employing the technicality in state election law so that he can replace Denenberg with a more viable candidate in the race for the 8th Senate District on Long Island. The outcome of the contest is seen as a key to the Democrats' efforts to gain majority control of the legislative chamber in Albany.
Ordinarily, a Senate candidate could not be replaced just six weeks from Election Day, but Jacobs said if a candidate opts to instead run for the state Supreme Court, state law allows the party to replace the candidate on the ballot. Jacobs, who noted the political maneuver has been employed by both parties in the past, said he is considering a half-dozen people to replace Denenberg. A decision must be made by Tuesday.
In 2010, former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio withdrew as the Conservative Party candidate for governor after he lost a Republican primary. He then ran for a state Supreme Court judge position in the Bronx as a ploy to give the Republican candidate, Carl Paladino, a better chance at defeating his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo.
Lazio acknowledged at the time that it was a technical maneuver and he never intended to serve as a judge in the Bronx in the unlikely event that he was elected. As it turned out, both Paladino and Lazio lost.
"My intention is to present the voters with a viable candidate who actually can give them a choice," Jacobs said. "I think the public would like to have the chance to take a look at a competitive race."
On Tuesday, Denenberg's former law firm, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, filed a lawsuit accusing Denenberg of creating fictitious bills and expense reports. It also claimed Denenberg forged a federal judge's name on court documents. It said that as a result of the alleged false billings, Denenberg was paid a 25 percent bonus on top of his annual salary, which was $360,000 by 2008, according to the court papers.
"While these charges are extremely serious, the timing, politically, should raise many questions," Denenberg said in a statement. "I look forward to cooperating with U.S. attorney's office to establish the truth. Unfortunately, given the political calendar, it is impossible to continue my campaign for state Senate."
Denenberg's attorney told The Associated Press on Wednesday that if his client were to win a judgeship, he would decline the position. "He's taking the Lazio pledge," Bruce Barket said.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said Democrats "are showing a total disrespect for our judicial system by nominating this criminal to a Supreme Court judgeship."
Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio conceded "the bottom line is the rules are structured to accommodate this. It's perfectly legal, but the bottom line is it's totally cynical."
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