Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's blind trust safe for now; judge sees no emergency in lawsuit

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott can officially file for re-election next month while keeping his wealth in a blind trust because a judge won't decide quickly on whether blind trusts are legal.

Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed with Scott's administration Wednesday that no emergency requires him to rule on the constitutionality of the blind trust law before June 16, when the weeklong qualifying period begins that requires candidates to disclose their finances.

"This is not an emergency," Assistant Attorney General Allen Winsor told the judge. "This is not a new statute. This is not a new issue."

Cooper set oral arguments in the case for June 19.

Scott currently is the only elected official in Florida who has placed his assets in a blind trust, managed by a former business associate whose investment decisions are shielded from Scott to prevent conflicts of interest because he has stock in companies regulated by the state.

Scott formed his blind trust in 2011, with the approval of the Commission on Ethics, before the Legislature passed a 2013 law regulating blind trusts.

The most recent public listing of his assets and the value of each was April 30, 2011.

Scott at that time listed extensive holdings in various energy, oil and mining companies; Key Technology, an automated processor of raw foods; Xfone, which sells prepaid phone cards for international calls; and Republic Services, a garbage hauler.

Republic Services was one of five companies in Scott's portfolio that he said in 2011 was subject to state regulation.

Scott last year reported a net worth of $83.8 million, which included $72.9 million in assets held in the Richard L. Scott Blind Trust, with no further detail.

A challenge to the blind trust law was brought two weeks ago by Jim Apthorp, a top aide to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, the driving force behind the voter-approved 1976 "Sunshine Amendment" that made financial disclosure part of Florida's Constitution. Apthorp's lawsuit asked the Florida Supreme Court to require that Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state's chief elections official and a Scott appointee, reject the qualifying papers of any candidate who had a blind trust.

More than a dozen Florida news organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Apthorp's lawsuit.

The Supreme Court did not act on Apthorp's lawsuit and referred it to a state court in Tallahassee, where it was assigned to Cooper, who expressed his familiarity with the case and Scott's role in it during a brief hearing.

"I actually do read the newspapers," the judge said, "and apparently, there's only one candidate this would affect."

Scott has said he would abide by whatever a court decides.

Apthorp's lawyer, trial attorney Bob Kerrigan, tried in vain Wednesday to get Cooper to agree on a quick resolution to avoid confusion among candidates for office.

"Let's say somebody qualifies and uses a blind trust, and then at some point it's determined to be unconstitutional," Kerrigan told the judge. "That candidate is assailed for trying to hide his assets."

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