Tallahassee, FL – Republican Jim Norman appears headed for the Florida Senate after Wednesday's ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. The decision reversed a lower court's decision on the challenge brought by four-term state Rep. Kevin Ambler, whom Norman defeated in the GOP primary. Margie Menzel reports.
A week after losing the August 24th primary, Ambler sued Norman over a $435,000 house in Arkansas, which Norman's wife Mearline had paid for and which wasn't listed on the candidate's financial disclosure form. In mid-October, Leon Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled in Ambler's favor, tossing Norman from the ballot. But now Norman is back - the only name on the ballot for the Senate from District 12, with just two write-in candidates between himself and a bitterly contested win. Ambler told Tampa's WDAE-AM Friday he won't appeal the 1st DCA ruling.
"We are now just days away from the general election, and there has to be enough time to go through those steps of being able to file an appeal - if the court accepts jurisdiction, and it's not required to at the Supreme Court; it's discretionary," Ambler said.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal Wednesday unanimously reversed the lower court. Attorney Barry Richard, representing Norman, had argued the day before that Ambler should have complained earlier in the election season to avoid disenfranchising voters.
"The fact that we now have what is estimated to be 50 percent or more of the voters voting early, that that rule we've had since 1947, that requires you to file your challenge to eligibility before the election if you know the facts becomes even more important for just this reason," Richard said.
Here Judge Nikki Clark questions Ambler's attorney, Gary Early, and Judge Robert T. Benton II breaks into one of his later replies:
Judge Clark: "Was there even a requirement that Mr. Norman list that on his financial affidavit? Because the instructions for Form 6 specifically say a candidate doesn't have to list a spouse's assets."
Gary Early: "If that were all there were, and it were actually Mearline Norman's house, that she had purchased with money that was entirely hers and not co-mingled with Mr. Norman, then that would probably be her investment, her business. But that's not the facts as they were ultimately found in this case by Judge Fulford. And it was not information that was available to Mr. Ambler until well after the qualifying had closed and until well after he had viewed the Form 6. And in fact Mr. Norman did everything in his power..."
Judge Benton: "...but he learned before the election."
Gary Early: "The first time it was discovered or it became knowledge that Ralph Hughes was the source of the $500,000 was four days before the election, when the complaint was filed with the Commission on Ethics."
The money for the Normans' Arkansas house came from the late millionaire businessman Ralph Hughes, and WDAE asked Ambler if he thought there was any quid pro quo involved in Hughes' gift.
WDAE: "Some people would say, This smells really strange.' And I'm sure we haven't heard the last of it. There was an Ethics Commission yet there's the Senate, which might not seat him - although that's not going to happen, in all probability. But the FBI is investigating now, and that's an entirely different thing. One really quick thing, Kevin, because we have to go, but have you been called by the FBI?
Ambler: "I have not been subpoenaed - yet. I do know they are convened and that they are taking testimony."
Last weekend, GOP officials tapped former state Rep. Rob Wallace to replace Norman if the appeal failed - although Ambler had indicated he was available. Republican Party of Florida spokesman Dan Conston:
"We wanted to have a process in place so that if Mr. Norman's appeal did not go through, the voters of SD 12 would know who would be sworn into the Florida Senate on Nov. 2," Conston said. "But the voters in SD 12 voted for Jim Norman to be their nominee, and if he wins in November, we'll congratulate him as the new senator for District 12."