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Parties go separate ways in judicial endorsements

A flurry of behind-the-scene negotiations among leaders of major and minor parties resulted in the selection of several candidates for State Supreme Court on Monday night in a process that some observers say might not yet be over.

Democrats, Republicans and Conservatives all met in judicial nominating conventions to settle on slates with no cross-endorsements between Democrats and Republicans -- a sharp departure from previous years.

When the chairmen of the parties had spoken and delegates from across the eight counties of Western New York had voted, these were the results:

Democrats selected City Judges Robert T. Russell Jr. and Diane Y. Devlin, and attorney Gerald J. Whalen.

Republicans selected Tonawanda Town Justice Frank Caruso, Eden Trustee Timothy J. Walker and former Family Court Judge Deborah A. Haendiges.

Conservatives selected Caruso, Whalen and Devlin.

Much of Monday's wrangling centered on where judicial candidates will appear on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

That process could lead some candidates to turn down minor party nominations because of ballot positions considered unfavorable.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan refused to agree to any cross-endorsements during the party's convention at Lucarelli's Restaurant in Lackawanna. In a year where a strong Democratic turnout is expected due to the Buffalo mayoral election, Lenihan said he felt good about the prospects of his candidates.

Lenihan said he was happy with a slate that included an African-American sitting judge (Russell), a woman judge (Devlin), and a well-known trial attorney (Whalen). Other candidates included Erie County Judge Timothy J. Drury, City Judge James A.W. McLeod and attorney Lynn A. Clarke.

Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis said he also felt good about running three candidates, but arrived at his choice in an unconventional manner during his conclave in the Georgian Room of Statler Towers.

Davis recommended Caruso (who lost a Supreme Court bid last year), but threw open the convention for the last two choices. That led to the selection of Walker and Haendiges.

Davis said he departed from his usual process of recommending candidates to the convention because of the quality of candidates competing. They also included Amherst Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones and Amherst Prosecutor John L. Michalski.

Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo expressed his displeasure with the way ballot position was engineering the selection of the candidates.

"It just shows you how this happens and the need to work out a better way," he said.

Davis concurred, indicating he felt "the process is wrong."

On Sunday, the Independence Party chose Whalen and Devlin. The Working Families Party picked Whalen, Russell and Caruso.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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