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Former judge rips Norman on the stand - Prosecution gets in early licks in ousted Democratic boss’ latest trial

It seems that the attempted grand larceny case against former Assemblymember Clarence Norman is becoming less about how the disgraced pol shook down civil court candidates and more about the fast and loose rules of county politics. Facing the man she claimed tried to shake her down for upwards of $9,000, former Civil Court Judge Karen Yellen said that she always knew that Norman was the man to see if she wanted to get the support of the county. After running unopposed and being elected to the bench in 1992, Yellen said that she made it a point to meet with Norman months before she was up for re-election. “I knew that as county leader, he had the last word,” Yellen told the jury. “He was the person in charge, he ran the Kings County Democratic Party. So I went to him, and asked him for his support and the support of the county.” Meeting at his Assembly office, Norman told Yellen that he had no problem with her and that she would get the county support as long as she visited the district leaders. During the months before getting the party’s nomination, Yellen went to a lot of “chicken dinners.” “There was no place I didn’t go,” she said. “You name a neighborhood, I was there.” Yellen ultimately got the endorsement. The campaign was going along swimmingly until July, when Norman brought her and civil court candidates Marcia Sikowitz and Robin Garson to a meeting with the idea to put them in a joint campaign. Things went downhill shortly after that. After a lot of unsuccessful discussions, Yellen was faced with a quandary: either fork over a lot of dough or lose the support of the party, she alleged, adding that she was “astonished” when Norman’s people came to her campaign manager, demanding that she would have to pay $9,000 for a “get out the vote” operation in central Brooklyn, as well as give $1,000 to the 2002 campaign of former Coney Island Assemblymember Adele Cohen. Yellen said her people were asked to write out a $9,000 check to William Boone, who was going to lead the street operation, where people are hired for the day to hand out Yellen’s palm cards. “I couldn’t understand why we needed to do it,” she said. “We didn’t have enough money.” Yellen, who said that she expected the county to pay for any street operations, said she tried to negotiate the deal, but Norman was adamant, which culminated in a showdown where he allegedly threatened to pull the county’s support if she didn’t fork over the money. Holding back tears, Yellen said that she ultimately handed over the money. Despite the street operation, she still failed at the polls. “I lost,” she said. “I was out of a job.” Anthony Ricco, Norman’s attorney, picked Yellen apart at the stand, holding true to the defense that Yellen didn’t want to pay the money because she didn’t want to invest her campaign funds in minority neighborhoods. Armed with voting results from the 2002 primary, Ricco tried to show that Yellen had invested in “get out the vote” operations in Assemblymember Felix Ortiz’s 51st Assembly District, which is mostly Hispanic, and Assemblymember Dov Hikind’s 48th Assembly District, which is mostly Jewish – statements that fly in the face of Yellen’s belief that the county was supposed to pay for all of the candidate’s get out the vote operations. “You were crying poverty to Clarence Norman,” Ricco said. “You said you didn’t have a dime to spend, but you managed to pay for all of these operations.” “I did what I had to do to get elected,” Yellen said. Ricco tried to show that Yellen actually received more votes in Central Brooklyn than anywhere else on Primary Day, right where the $9,000 was being invested. Testifying before Yellen was the prosecution’s “smoking gun” – former Kings County Democratic Party Executive Director Jeff Feldman, who acted as Norman’s messenger when the former Assemblyman allegedly shook Yellen down for money. Looking over at his former boss – a gaze that Norman never met as he sat in his charcoal pinstripe suit between his two attorneys — Feldman recalled on the stand the meeting when Norman allegedly blew his top at Yellen’s campaign manager, who did not want to pay the $10,000 for the “get out the vote campaign.” “He said to the effect, ‘If you don’t agree to this, you’re not going to have any support in this county,’” Feldman told prosecutors. But on cross examination, Feldman told Norman’s defense team that Democratic district leaders had “more authority.” “The process was one of inclusion,” Feldman said, when asked to compare Norman’s regime to others that Feldman knew about during the course of his career. “They [the district leaders] were the ones who provided the endorsement or lack of endorsement.” From the stand, Feldman helped bolster the defense’s point that there was an exceptional amount of pressure to win the 2002 civil court election, since two party picks “lost miserably” in 2001. “There had never been such a successful loss,” Feldman said describing the civil court race defeat before Yellen came up for reelection. “Do you ever remember when the party lost a judge race countywide two years in a row?” Norman’s attorney asked. “Not in 30 years,” Feldman said, adding, “If we lose the election, we’d lose power.” 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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