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DA: It was Norman’s way or the highway - No holds barred in coercion trial against disgraced pol

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At the trial against former Assemblyman Clarence Norman begins, prosecutors are leaving their kid gloves at the door. Just three days into the trial, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Richardson has begun his parade of borough judges and elected officials to prove their case that candidates didn’t get any love from the embattled former Democratic Party boss unless they put up a wad of cash first. “It was his way or the highway,” Richardson told a jury of four men and eight women during his opening remarks, explaining that if a candidate didn’t bow to Norman’s demands, he didn’t get the Democratic party’s endorsement, which was tantamount to political death sentence. Attorneys for Norman are sticking to their belief that the DA’s case against their client is nothing more but a which hunt. Attorney Anthony Ricco explained that Norman’s hardball politics wasn’t coercion, but his way of fighting for the rights of his constituents. He even went as a far as linking connections between Norman and the Reverend Martin Luther King. Ricco alleged that the case is really about race and a white judicial candidate’s desire not to spend a lot of money in the minority neighborhoods – a defense that could resonate with the jury, which is mostly black. The thrust of the coercion case against Norman circles around the 2002 judicial race when Norman allegedly threatened to pull the Kings County Democratic Party’s support from candidates Karen Yellen and Marcia Sikowitz if they didn’t go along with his demands. Prosecutors allege that Norman wanted both of them to invest in a joint campaign with a third candidate and use a printing company of his choosing – an endeavor that would end up costing them upwards of $100,000. When the candidates balked, Norman threatened to pull his support. Richardson claimed that Norman withheld his support all the way up to the primary, when Yellen made a $9,000 to a consultant for election work. Ricco said that their extortion claims boil down to nothing more than Yellen’s reluctance to spend money in minority districts. “[Yellen and Sikowitz] were not extorted by Clarence Norman,” he told the jury. “He tried to inspire them beyond their own ignorance.” As this paper was going to press, prosecutors had called Surrogate Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres, who is credited with winning a judgeship even after Norman refused to give her his support. She ultimately sued state officials in a groundbreaking case where the convention system in which party heads choose the candidate the group supports was deemed unconstitutional. Waiting in the wings was prosecutor’s “smoking gun” — Kings County Democratic Party Executive Director Jeff Feldman, who allegedly acted as Norman’s messenger when he allegedly shook people down for money. Although initially charged with coercion as well, criminal charges against Feldman were dropped when he agreed to testify against Norman. Norman lost his Assembly seat, his party position, license to practice law and was sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison two years ago after losing a pair of criminal trials where he was found guilty of violating election law and pocketing a $5,000 check meant for his campaign. During a third trial held last year, Norman was acquitted of charges that he had bilked Albany out of thousands of dollars in travel vouchers. Norman is currently free on bail as he files his appeals and waits for his next trial.

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