By Thomas Tracy
Clarence Norman was on pins and needles Wednesday as a jury spent hours trying to determine if the embattled former legislator was guilty of a crime, or simply politics as usual. By late Wednesday a jury of four men and eight women was still weighing the evidence in the attempted grand larceny case against the disgraced former assemblyman, obviously trying to determine which Norman it depicts – the callous thief, or the calculating political tactician who desperately wanted to win an election. As this paper was going to press, a spokesperson for the Kings County District Attorney’s office said that the jury had finished for the night and was going to continue deliberations on Thursday. The jury reportedly came back with a question for prosecutors, although the spokesman didn’t know what the question entailed. Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione was reportedly set to answer the jury’s question Thursday morning. During the two-week trial, jurors learned more about the inner workings of political campaigns than they ever wanted to. At the same time, they were told about how Norman, the then-chair of the Kings County Democratic Party, allegedly forced a handful of candidates for civil court judge to give the party $9,000 for a special last-minute “get out the vote” campaign in central Brooklyn. According to several witnesses, including the alleged victim – former Civil Court Judge Karen Yellen – and former Kings County Democratic Party Executive Director Jeffrey Feldman, Norman threatened to pull the party’s support from Yellen if they didn’t hand over the money. During her testimony, Yellen said she refused Norman’s demand at first, claiming that her campaign coffers were tapped. She ultimately paid the money, but lost the election anyway. But the question to the jury remained: was Norman committing a crime at that moment? To Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, he absolutely was. “Clarence Norman is no hero,” Vecchione explained during his summation on Tuesday. “Clarence Norman is a thug in a suit and a tie. And he uses the suit and tie and that political position that he had just as an ordinary thief would use a gun and a knife to steal money from people.” At the eleventh hour, attorneys for Norman, who didn’t call up any witnesses to defend the former legislator, continue to contend that Norman had done nothing wrong. The alleged coercion was simply his way of ensuring that the civil court candidates – who were white — got the exposure they needed in black communities throughout the borough. “There was no extortion in this case,” defense attorney Edward Wilford explained to jurors. “There was no coercion. This was trying to implement a plan to win.” Contacted by this paper Wednesday night, Norman attorney Anthony Ricco said that his client’s spirits were “very strong and very high” as they waited for a verdict. Not making any predictions about the trial, Ricco reaffirmed his position that the entire case was about one thing: political maneuvering. “I think it was political maneuvering on [Yellen’s] part,” Ricco said. “We’re sure that if she had won this election, this case would never have happened.” 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 allegedly bilked Albany out of thousands of dollars in travel vouchers. Norman is currently free on bail as he files his appeals and participates in his defense.