TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The state Ethics Commission on Friday sent Sen. Jim Norman's financial disclosure case to the Florida Senate, where his lawyer said he will argue against any penalty.
The Tampa Republican admitted in a stipulation approved by the ethics panel that he failed to give timely disclosure of a $500,000 gift his wife received from a local businessman and his interest in an Arkansas home and two boats she bought with the money on three annual disclosure forms for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The commission, though, cannot take action against a lawmaker. It can only forward the case to the appropriate legislative chamber and cannot even make a recommendation unless the House or Senate asks for one. The panel on Friday fined a non-legislative official $300 for each disclosure violation.
Norman's lawyer, Mark Levine, said he will ask the Senate to take no action because his client's violations were inadvertent. He said the Hillsborough County attorney advised Norman, then a county commissioner, he didn't have to disclose the information. Norman was elected to the Senate in 2010.
“His actions certainly were not willful,'' Levine said. “They weren't by any means vindictive or anything of that nature. He just did what he was told to do.''
That sets his case apart from financial disclosure violations admitted to by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Levine said. The Senate publicly reprimanded but did not fine the Merritt Island Republican.
Levine said he also would have advised Norman that his wife's gifts and her property did not need to be reported because they were solely her business.
“He didn't mess with her stuff,'' Levine said. “This was simply a business transaction between Mearline Norman and her partner _ had nothing to do with Sen. Norman.''
He noted the commission was not unanimous and it debated the matter when the panel found probable cause that Norman violated the disclosure requirements in February. Norman, though, signed the stipulation rather than ask the commission for a hearing to fight the allegations because he wants to get the case behind him and let the Senate, which has ultimate authority, decide his fate, Levine said.
The commission also accepted a stipulation from former state Rep. Kevin Rader admitting he failed to disclose his interest and/or position with an insurance company. The panel, though, agreed to take no action against the Delray Beach Democrat as part of the agreement. Rader, now a candidate for the Florida Senate, in turn has agreed to drop a rule challenge he filed with the Division of Administrative hearings.