(CN) – A Republican candidate for the Florida Senate will appear on Tuesday’s ballot, despite a rival’s claim that he was ineligible for office for failing to disclose a $500,000 gift to his wife.
The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the trial court’s decision to nullify Jim Norman’s Republican primary win on the basis that the $500,000 gift to Mearline Norman was an “indirect” gift to the candidate.
In late August, Norman defeated his primary opponent, Kevin Ambler, for the District 12 Tampa Senate seat with more than 55 percent of the vote.
Ambler sued Norman a week later, claiming the victory was invalid and insisting Ambler should replace Norman as the sole Republican candidate on the ballot.
Ambler told Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford that Norman’s wife, Mearline, had received $500,000 from the couple’s deceased friend, businessman Ralph Hughes, before the primary.
The Normans testified that after Mearline partnered with Hughes, he gave her money to buy and furnish a home.
But Jim Norman insisted he had no knowledge of his wife’s partnership with Hughes.
Fulford said their testimony was “patently absurd,” nullifying Norman’s victory and disqualifying him as a candidate in the general election.
The 1st District Court of Appeal reversed and allowed Jim Norman to remain on the ballot.
“The law distinguishes between a candidate’s constitutional eligibility for office, on the one hand, and, on the other, a constitutionally eligible candidate’s taking the necessary, statutory steps to qualify to run for office,” Judge Robert Benton wrote for the three-judge panel.
Benton said Norman was qualified to run for office because he was older than 21, lived in the state two years before the election, and lived in the area where he was running for the Senate seat.
“He is therefore constitutionally eligible to hold office as a state senator, and so to serve as his party’s nominee for that office, whatever irregularities may have transpired in the course of his qualifying to run for office,” the judge wrote.
The judge noted that Norman could still face perjury charges, but said it’s up to the Legislature to remove a candidate from the ballot based on a recommendation of the Commission of Ethics.