TAMPA — Is there anyone who hasn't heard about Jim Norman and the house in Arkansas?
Certainly, it was well known among newspaper readers that Norman's wife paid $435,000 cash in 2006 for a lakefront home, and Norman's critics alleged the deal posed conflicts of interest for the Hillsborough County commissioner.
Kevin Ambler, a state legislator who lost to Norman in the Aug. 24 Republican primary for the state Senate, apparently knew, too. Allegations about the house were featured in an attack ad that voters received shortly before the primary.
Ambler's decision to raise the issue after the primary election is now part of the defense Norman is mounting in a lawsuit brought by Ambler.
Norman's argument: Ambler waited so long that he shouldn't be allowed to sue.
Norman's attorneys plan to take a sworn statement this week from Douglas McAlarney, a Tallahassee political consultant who is chairman of an electioneering organization called Floridians for Honest Politicians, according to documents in Leon County Circuit Court.
The group's name appears in the return address of an attack ad that was mailed before the August primary.
"What isn't Jim Norman disclosing to you?" the ad begins, illustrated by photos of the house and Norman with what appears to be duct tape over his mouth.
It goes on to describe the Arkansas real estate transaction, which included two boats.
Ambler, in a lawsuit he filed Aug. 31 in Tallahassee, alleges that Norman failed to include in his campaign disclosure a $435,000 loan from business leader Ralph Hughes. Ambler contends Norman borrowed the money around the time of the Arkansas deal.
Norman has long maintained that his wife, Mearline, bought the house herself with the help of investors. Norman's Tampa attorney acknowledged last week that Hughes, now deceased, was an investor.
Lawyers involved in the Tallahassee case have declined to comment because of a confidentiality agreement. McAlarney did not return calls for comment.
But two weeks ago, Norman attorney Christopher Lunny said in court that he planned to question Ambler about his timing, and that the involvement of the campaign organization could nullify the lawsuit.
In the response to Ambler's lawsuit, Lunny wrote, "plaintiff knew or was on notice of his alleged concerns well prior to the election" and therefore should not be allowed to sue.
In addition to McAlarney's testimony, Norman's attorneys want copies of correspondence between the organization and Ambler.
Ambler's prior knowledge about the Arkansas deal is just one of the defense tactics Norman's team is employing.
Another is a law that exempts candidates from disclosing any liabilities that are "contingent," or in dispute. "Ambler is unable to show that any alleged loan existed and required disclosure," Lunny wrote in a recent motion for summary judgment.
The trial is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 624-2739.