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Action! Drama! Questionable ethics! The Jim Norman trial has it all!

And the award for Best Performance in this week's trial of state Senate hopeful Jim Norman goes to …

Oh, the possibilities.

You'd think it would be Norman himself, as the Hillsborough commissioner battles the lawsuit intended to boot him off the November ballot and keep him from being a shoo-in for the Legislature.

Certainly he's the overwhelming favorite for his earnest performance of I May Be a Good Old Boy But I'm Also a Feminist, Which Explains Everything.

By now you've heard the tawdry tale of $435,000 plunked down for a lovely lakefront home in Arkansas, funded, it turns out, by a millionaire businessman who benefited from the commission's build-build-build mentality.

Depending on who you believe — Norman, or the guy he beat in the primary now suing him — the house in question is:

1) Just an investment, move along, nothing to look at here, a squeaky clean deal between Norman's political benefactor-buddy Ralph Hughes and Norman's wife, Mearline. A deal in which Norman did not get involved. Because that's the kind of husband he is.

Or:

2) A clumsily disguised gift of a vacation home given to a powerful politician by a man with a construction materials business and a big interest in growth issues, the potential stink of which has already wafted over to the FBI.

Now there's a plot line.

On the witness stand, Norman gave this explanation of his wife's business ventures: "I asked her to quit work. She wanted a piece of a career." When she "hooked up with a Realtor" for the Arkansas house, he "rode in the back seat," the back seat being a decidedly different role for the Norman we have come to know.

Things got really interesting when Tallahassee Judge Jackie Fulford grilled Mearline Norman on some of her more intriguing statements. The judge wanted to know why Mrs. Norman, who hadn't had a job in years, would take responsibility for ongoing maintenance and improvements of the house.

How was she going to pay for that, the judge asked?

And did Hughes invest in her past business ventures, like her closet company? No.

And was Hughes' name on the bank account, the one Mrs. Norman said he gave her $500,000 to open at his branch? No. Which makes you start to wonder about the definition of "partner."

And, hey, how come after Hughes died in 2008, Mrs. Norman changed the beneficiary on the account to her sister and father instead of to her husband?

Because he wasn't part of the investment, Mrs. Norman said.

But, now that you ask, neither were her sister or father.

You want drama? Kevin Ambler, the lawyer who lost to Norman in the primary, dropped this bomb: Back when they were buddies, Norman boasted giddily of a "dream house" and asked for advice on how to buy it if an uncle or parent gave him the money. (Or, say, a guy who's like an uncle, except he's a businessman with a big interest in the doings of local government.)

Lies! Norman countered.

And so the judge who took in all this drama is considering the many questions of this case, one of which must surely be: Is this really how they run things down there?

The answer being, sorry, your honor, but yes.

Action! Drama! Questionable ethics! The Jim Norman trial has it all! 10/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 14, 2010 7:50pm]

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