Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lentol cools to judgeship amid lawsuit

Daily News - Aug 9. 2005
Lentol cools to judgeship amid lawsuit

By Hugh Son

Veteran Assemblyman Joseph Lentol was picked for a powerful - and controversial - new Surrogate Court judge seat, but he may no longer want the job.

"This job as a surrogate judge is very tempting for me to take, but I'm not sure it's the right thing to do because my heart may not be in it," Lentol (D-Williamsburg) told the Daily News yesterday.

"I still feel like I have a lot to offer the state Assembly representing my district," he said.

Lentol's announcement - a reversal from remarks made earlier this year - comes after a lawsuit filed by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund that seeks to block the Nov. 8 election in which Lentol would be the Democratic candidate.

Lentol was tapped after a last-minute deal was struck between Gov. Pataki and the Legislature to give Brooklyn a second surrogate judge.

The position was created too late to schedule a primary election, leaving the choice of the candidate to the party. In overwhelmingly Democratic Brooklyn, the Democratic line in a judicial race is a virtual lock on election.

The lawsuit contends the process violates the Voting Rights Act, said Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund President Cesar Perales.

"It denies minority voters an opportunity to have a say in the election of the second surrogate in Brooklyn," Perales said.

At least one of the Democratic district leaders who joined embattled party boss Clarence Norman in picking Lentol said he thought the lawsuit had an excellent chance of succeeding.

"The creation of that seat is outrageous. Why should 42 district leaders pick the second-most important judge in the county, instead of 900,000 registered Democrats?" said Alan Fleishman, Park Slope district leader.

If the Justice Department agrees with the lawsuit, Pataki may be empowered to pick a one-year appointment and an election would be held next year.

Democratic sources said Lentol was shying away from criticism of the way the nomination was handled. "Lentol only wants it if it's handed to him on a silver platter," said a political operative who didn't want his name used.

But Lentol denied being influenced by any outside force.

"It has only to do with me, what's in my heart," Lentol said. "I've been more of a legislator than a lawyer, and I don't know if [the judgeship] is for me."

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