TAMPA — Jim Norman, as expected, filed an appeal Thursday to a Tallahassee judge's decision to throw him off the ballot for the state Senate in District 12.
Represented by Barry Richard, one of the attorneys for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount case, Norman argued that Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled incorrectly for the following reasons:
• Kevin Ambler, who brought the lawsuit to disqualify Norman based on his failure to disclose his wife's real estate purchase in Arkansas, should have filed his complaint sooner. Ambler knew about the Arkansas house for years, and knew it was not on Norman's disclosure forms for months. By waiting, he had a "prejudicial" effect on the Aug. 24 Republican primary, which Norman won. Essentially, Richard contends that Ambler waited too long and therefore should not be allowed to sue.
• Ambler did not present clear and convincing evidence of his allegation that the house was purchased with a $500,000 gift from businessman Ralph Hughes. At trial, Norman and his wife described the $500,000 as an investment, a claim the judge found "patently absurd." Richard contends that the judge not believing the Normans doesn't equate to the "clear and convincing" standard.
• The court did not have jurisdiction in the matter. Richard maintains the issue should have been decided by the state ethics commission.
• Richard also argues that financial disclosure is not an eligibility requirement to run for the Legislature. The Florida Constitution, he wrote, requires only that a candidate be 21 years old, a resident of the district, and a two-year resident of Florida.
The brief was filed with the 1st District Court of Appeal. A response from Ambler is expected by Friday afternoon.
Already, Ambler's case has inspired two copycat lawsuits.
Hillsborough County Democratic Party vice chairman Christopher Mitchell is suing to get Republican James Grant, a candidate for the District 47 state House seat, to answer questions under oath about his finances.
The impetus for the suit is a $40,000 loan that Grant made to his campaign in August. Mitchell wants to know where Grant came up with the money when his financial disclosure form shows he had a negative net worth of $5,870 as of June 14.
Mitchell said Wednesday he was encouraged by Fulford's decision "to see through the same discrepancies that Jim Norman had on his financial disclosure statement."
On Thursday, a Democratic donor in Miami sued to have Republican David Rivera kicked off the Nov. 2 ballot for filing misleading financial disclosure forms as a state lawmaker.
The complaint says that Rivera, a four-term state representative now running for Congress, declared in his disclosure forms that he was a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development. However, USAID has no record of ever hiring Rivera or his company. Rivera later amended his disclosure forms to omit USAID as a source of income.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Miami lawyer William Barzee, who has donated thousands of dollars to Rivera's Democratic opponent and the Democratic Party over the years, and Maria Teresa Pascual, a voter who lives in the South Florida district that Rivera seeks to represent.
Meanwhile, as Norman's appeal plays out in court, six officers with the Hillsborough and Pasco county Republican parties have until Wednesday to fill Norman's slot on the ballot.
Deborah Cox-Roush, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, has said she expects a decision will be made before the end of the weekend.
The Miami Herald contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or firstname.lastname@example.org.