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Arrest doesn't change plans

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

Floyd Lombardi, charged with slapping a sheriff's officer, said he acted in self-defense and still wants to be clerk of the court.

A man who said he still wants to be Hernando County's next clerk of court will get firsthand experience with the system after being accused of slapping a sheriff's officer.

Floyd Lombardi of Spring Hill was arrested Wednesday night at the county fair and faces charges of committing battery on a law enforcement officer, Maj. Richard Nugent.

But Lombardi would not even be able to vote if he is convicted _ let alone hold office.

"Just because you are arrested doesn't mean you can't run, but if he was convicted after, the governor would remove him," said Kristi Bronson, assistant general counsel for the state Division of Elections.

Lombardi, a 48-year-old member of the Democratic Executive Committee and a disabled veteran, said Thursday he is not worried. He insists he slapped Nugent, a Republican running for sheriff, in self-defense after the major pushed him. The two were at the fair arguing over an investigation into a bar fight in which Lombardi was injured two years ago, he said.

"It was in self-defense. (This charge) is not going to affect me doing the job. It has nothing to do with the job," Lombardi insisted at the Hernando County Jail, where he was released Thursday afternoon without having to post bail.

Nugent replied that Lombardi is "crazy" and said he never provoked him.

"It's just unbeliveable," Nugent said, adding that Wednesday night was the second time Lombardi had approached him at the fair and started "rambling on" about the investigation.

The first time, on Sunday, Nugent said he told Lombardi to come to the Sheriff's Office during the week to discuss the case. According to records, the case was closed after Lombardi said he was unsure if the man he originally accused of hitting him over the head with a bottle was actually his assailant.

Lombardi never came to the Sheriff's Office, Nugent said, but he did approach Nugent at the fair again Wednesday night.

"He comes up to me and starts poking me in the chest, and I said you better stop or you're going to jail," Nugent recalled. "So I started to walk away, and he grabbed me by the arm and slapped me. It took everything in me not to respond to that."

Instead, Nugent let Brooksville police officers arrest Lombardi.

Clerk of the Court Karen Nicolai called the arrest and Lombardi's decision to continue campaigning "an insult to the office."

"I'm a little leery of him," she said. "I just keep hoping that if I have to go to political functions with him, I don't have to sit next to him."

Alexander D. Jenkins, chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Party, was more reserved in his reaction. He said he was not familiar with all the facts surrounding the case but that the party does not condone violence.

"That type of behavior is never condoned by civil people," he said Wednesday night. "Our apologies are extended to Maj. Nugent."

Jenkins said that if Lombardi is convicted, there is a possibility he no longer would be eligible to serve as a member of the county's Democratic Executive Committee.

"I know he has a disability, and I don't know what that is," Jenkins said. "But sometimes things bother him a great deal."

Lombardi, who said he qualifies for disability because of a bad back and psychological abuse and bias he suffered while in the military, said Thursday that he does not believe in violence either. But he said Nugent forced him to slap him by pushing him first.

He added that Nugent never told him they could discuss the investigation at the Sheriff's Office and said he never told investigators he was not sure about who hit him.

"He's a liar," Lombardi said. "I'm not a violent person. I've never been arrested for something like this, but he shouldn't have provoked me. It was like I had to do it."

Although Lombardi said he has never been arrested for a violent crime before, during an interview from the jail Thursday he did say he had been arrested on several occasions in Georgia on alcohol-related charges. He would not go into details.

"But that's not me any more. You're talking 10 years ago. I used to drink heavy, and I used to get caught every time I did. But that's not me," he said. "I just decided one day to stop. I'm not an alcoholic, although some people thought I was. That's water under the bridge."

Arrest records from Georgia were not available Thursday.