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Kevin Ambler sues, claiming Jim Norman wasn't qualified to run for state Senate

TAMPA — Kevin Ambler said it wasn't over when he saw the disappointing primary election results on Aug. 24.

He wasn't kidding.

Ambler filed a suit against Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman and elections officials on Tuesday, claiming the Republican state Senate nominee was not qualified to run.

Norman was ineligible because he did not complete his financial forms, alleges Ambler, who wants to be declared the nominee. Norman took 56 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for Ambler.

Specifically, Ambler claims Norman failed to disclose that he owned two boats in Arkansas, part of a deal in which his wife Mearline paid cash for a $435,000 lakefront house.

Questioned about the deal during the campaign, Norman said the house belonged solely to his wife. He said she had bought it with the help of investors, whom he would not name.

Ambler's suit, however, alleges that the house and boats were purchased "in conjunction" from a company owned by the late Ed Roleson Jr., a Miller beer distributor in Arkansas, in March 2006.

Shortly before that transaction, the suit alleges, Norman accepted a loan for approximately $435,000 from Seffner businessman Ralph Hughes. Through his businesses, Hughes contributed to Norman's political campaigns.

After Hughes died in 2008, Norman pushed to name the county's Moral Courage Award in his honor. His name was removed, at the family's request, when it was revealed that the Internal Revenue Service was trying to collect millions in unpaid taxes from the Hughes estate.

The lawsuit does not say what proof Ambler has of the loan. It alleges that Norman never repaid the loan from Hughes and failed to list it as a liability on his election disclosure forms.

"Because he failed to comply with the mandatory requirements in order to qualify as a Republican candidate for nomination or election to the Florida Senate. … Jim Norman is ineligible for nomination or election to the Florida Senate," the lawsuit states.

Neither Ambler, a Lutz attorney, nor Norman could be reached for comment Tuesday. District 12 includes northern Hillsborough and central Pasco counties.

The suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, also names the supervisors of elections in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, the Florida secretary of state, and the state Elections Canvassing Commission.

Ambler's attorney is Tallahassee-based Mark Herron, who represented Hillsborough County Commission candidate John Dingfelder in a Republican Party challenge. Dingfelder, a Democrat on the Tampa City Council, did not comply with the state's Resign-to-Run Law. Herron also worked on Al Gore's team during the 2000 presidential recount.

The lawsuit makes reference to a state ethics complaint that a Valrico lawyer said he filed shortly before the Aug. 24 primary. That complaint drew a connection between the Miller beer distributor who sold Mearline Norman the house and the fact that the Tampa Sports Authority approved a Miller patio deck at Raymond James Stadium in 2005 while Norman was a TSA board member. The ethics complaint contends that the $435,000 paid for the house was well below the asking price, even though the sale closed at the height of the real estate boom.

The Norman campaign called the ethics complaint "typical gutter politics at its worse."

Ambler, in his lawsuit, is asking the canvassing commission to invalidate the results of last week's primary and have election officials in both counties declare him the Republican nominee.

With no Democrat in the race, the November election is a contest between the Republican nominee and two independents. One attends college in North Carolina and the other works at Petco and Target stores.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Kevin Ambler sues, claiming Jim Norman wasn't qualified to run for state Senate 08/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 1:09am]
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