1. Florida Politics

Senate to decide punishment in state Sen. Jim Norman's ethics case

TALLAHASSEE — As Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa prepares to battle two opponents for his Senate seat, he's also waiting for his punishment.

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday urged the Senate to decide how to punish Norman for not disclosing a $500,000 gift to his wife from a local businessman. The punishment options are a reprimand, fine or removal from office.

The commission found probable cause in February to show Norman should have disclosed the gift when he was running for Senate in 2010. Norman also failed to disclose his interest in an Arkansas home and two boats that were bought with the money from the deal.

Norman signed an admission of guilt in the case last month, deciding not to fight the allegations.

He did not return calls for comment Friday.

The panel's decision leaves Norman vulnerable to opponents' attacks as he prepares to face fellow Republicans for his seat in an Aug. 14 primary.

"One of the reasons I'm in this campaign is because I believe there is an ethics problem and that the public trust has been broken," said Rob Wallace, a former House member.

He wouldn't directly answer whether his campaign will attack Norman's ethics record.

John Korsak, a Republican activist and homeland security consultant, has also challenged Norman.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of the Senate rules committee, predicted that it could be at least November before the Senate takes up Norman's case.

He said the Senate will consider previous cases when deciding Norman's punishment.

For example, when Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was found to have failed to disclose his $400,000 house and $120,000-per-year consulting job, the Senate admonished him but did not issue fines or other penalties.

Norman's attorney, Mark Levine, insists Norman's wife, Mearline, is an independent businesswoman who didn't fill her husband in on the details of the transaction.

Furthermore, the Hillsborough County attorney had advised Norman, who was then a county commissioner, that he didn't have to disclose, Levine said.

"There was no corruption here, no misintent, no bribery," he said. "We're left here with a simple form-filing mistake that people do all the time."

The charges have dogged Norman for two years, and he's eager to move on, Levine said.

"He's lost sleep over this, certainly," he said.