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Kevin Ambler says he'll stop fighting to oust Jim Norman from Nov. 2 ballot

TAMPA — Kevin Ambler says he will not fight an appellate court's ruling that put Jim Norman back on Tuesday's ballot for state Senate District 12.

"My family and I decided that the right thing now is not to pursue legal action," he said Thursday.

Ambler's decision ends a battle that began with his entrance in the race to represent north Hillsborough and central Pasco counties, and made headlines from Tampa to Tallahassee.

Along the way there were allegations of corruption and betrayal from two well-known north Hillsborough politicians and a half-dozen lawyers.

Ambler maintained, and still maintains, that he did the right thing in suing.

"As you know, sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing to do," he said. "I put principles over politics."

During a trial in Tallahassee, Ambler and Norman testified they had been friends, working on one another's campaigns and socializing with their wives, until the two decided to go after the same Senate seat.

Both had reached term limits in their current offices, Ambler as a state representative and Norman as a Hillsborough commissioner.

In a race with no Democrats, Norman campaigned as the better conservative while Ambler said he was more qualified for state office. As with many close races, there were attack ads and whisper campaigns.

Republican party leaders put their support behind Norman, who was able to raise twice as much money and won the Aug. 24 primary by 12 points.

That's when things escalated.

Ambler sued Norman in Leon County Circuit Court, alleging Norman was not qualified to run because his disclosure forms did not mention a house in Arkansas that Norman's wife, Mearline, bought with $500,000 from influential businessman Ralph Hughes.

The evidence and testimony that followed convinced Judge Jackie Fulford that Hughes, who has since died, gave Norman a gift that he did not report. She tossed him off the ballot as, Ambler had requested.

But Fulford did not grant Ambler his other wish, which was to be named the nominee in Norman's place, as the only Republican who had qualified.

Fulford left the matter of Norman's replacement to the state Division of Elections and the Republican Party, who chose former state Rep. Rob Wallace while Norman filed an appeal.

Word came down Wednesay that Norman had prevailed in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

There, judges ruled that regardless of Fulfords' opinion about Norman and the house in Arkansas, the election challenge was a matter for the state Commission on Ethics and the Legislature, not the courts.

What's more, they wrote, Norman met the requirements for candidacy under the Florida Constitution.

Lawyers who followed the case said an appeal to the Supreme Court would be an uphill battle, especially this close to the election.

Ambler said Thursday he was disappointed with the appellate court ruling but happy that the court clarified how and when election lawsuits should be filed.

He said he didn't regret his lawsuit, which brought information about his opponent into the light.

"Voters now have a much more complete set of facts and information available to them," Ambler said. "Having that complete information is important. It's the most important thing in any election."

The FBI is conducting a separate inquiry into Norman's relationship with Hughes.

Ambler said he has not been subpoenaed, but pointed out that all the depositions and testimony taken in the Tallahassee case will now be public record.

"The FBI and the U.S. Attorney now have a lot more facts than they did a month ago," he said.

Kevin Ambler says he'll stop fighting to oust Jim Norman from Nov. 2 ballot 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:54pm]
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