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Not so fast, Jim Norman, the judge would like a minute

He must be thinking:

Dang.

Wasn't supposed to be like this.

Jim Norman was all set to finish his approximately 100th term as a powerful boss on the Hillsborough County Commission, to get his plaque and his farewell luncheon at Cracker Barrel, then head on up to Tallahassee to take his seat as state senator, thank you very much.

This has been planned for, like, ever. Norman's trip north was such a done deal Democrats didn't even bother to run a candidate against him. As for his fellow Republicans, he got himself endorsed by Jeb, for gosh sakes. Heck, there has even been crazy talk of him one day being Senate president!

But now, those pesky questions about how his wife came into nearly half a million bucks for a lakefront house — and a judge's ruling that could put him under oath on that very subject — might sour the trip like a bad bout of carsickness.

For months, folks have been buzzing about news of a house in an Arkansas resort town bought with $435,000 cash. (When powerful politicians are connected to big money, citizens get interested in where it came from, or better yet, from whom.) Norman has said the house in his wife's name is her "investment" and her business. He said it was bought through "investors," whom he won't name.

Talk turned to the late Ralph Hughes, a millionaire political benefactor whose business benefitted from the commission's pro-development vote.

Norman would neither confirm nor deny.

Even with all that, it looked like smooth sailing to the Senate — until the guy he beat handily in the primary, Kevin Ambler, filed a lawsuit laying out those ugly Hughes-related allegations.

This week, Norman tried to get the suit tossed, but the judge on the case said whoa.

Take a load off.

Set a spell.

Now I would not presume to know what was going on in Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford's head, but … okay, I'll presume: Maybe she was thinking: Hey, the election's fast approaching and there are serious allegations here.

And, whether the evidence nails Norman or vindicates him, voters deserve to know.

And, should serious wrongdoing be found, it would sure be harder to spatula the big guy outta that comfy Senate seat once he's firmly ensconced.

Here's one thing I know the judge was thinking because she wrote it in her ruling: "One possible penalty for failing to provide a full and public disclosure is 'disqualification from being on the ballot.' "

So right about now, Norman should have been looking forward to sailing past the write-in candidates in the general election — you know, the guy who works at Petco and the woman who goes to college in North Carolina, two you might think of as placeholders put there to close the primary. If you were the cynical sort.

But instead of enjoying the ride, Norman could soon find himself being asked questions about that house, under oath. Oh, and don't forget the FBI is investigating.

Maybe it's all on the up and up. Maybe it's perfectly legal, but politically stinky anyway. And maybe it's worse.

Getting answers out of Jim Norman may turn out to be a mere pothole in his trip to higher office. Or maybe, an out-and-out roadblock.

Not so fast, Jim Norman, the judge would like a minute 09/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 24, 2010 6:06pm]
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