Appeals court rejects lawsuit challenging blind trust that has been used by Florida Gov. Scott



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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A state appeals court on Monday tossed out a challenge to a Florida law that allows Gov. Rick Scott to use a blind trust instead of providing a detailed accounting of his finances.

The 1st District Court of Appeal on rejected a lawsuit that had been filed by a former aide to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew.

The panel of three judges did not rule on whether the law violates the state's constitution, however. Instead, the court concluded there was no "controversy" that required a ruling now.

Judge Brad Thomas, however, in a concurring opinion, warned that the court could still find the blind trust law unconstitutional in the future, saying it "may likely be incompatible" with the constitution.

In Monday's ruling, the court concluded that because Scott stopped using the blind trust briefly last year, lawyers for Jim Apthorp, who filed the lawsuit, "wholly failed to allege a bona fide, actual, present practical need for a declaration" that the blind trust law is unconstitutional.

In the suit filed last summer, Apthorp contended that letting politicians use a blind trust violates a 1976 constitutional amendment pushed by Askew that requires full financial disclosure. Apthorp at the time said the lawsuit wasn't aimed at Scott, but the Republican governor was the only public official who was using a blind trust.

During his first-ever run for public office in 2010, Scott, a multimillionaire businessman, released three years of tax returns and a lengthy list of all his business holdings. But shortly after he took office, he received permission from the state's ethics commission to set up a blind trust to remove direct control over his finances and avoid conflicts. The trust is managed by a company that includes a longtime associate of Scott who managed his portfolio before he became governor.

Florida legislators in 2013 then passed a law that authorized blind trusts. Because of the lawsuit, Scott last year briefly dissolved the trust and released detailed information about his individual holdings right before qualifying for re-election. Last year's filing also showed certain assets of Scott's — such as his vacation home in Montana — that had not been disclosed previously.

Apthorp, in a statement, said he was considering his options, including filing an appeal to the state Supreme Court or asking the entire appeals court to review the ruling. He maintained that the underlying lawsuit addresses a "critical constitutional issue" and that he was "heartened" by the concurring opinion from Thomas.

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