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Steve Bousquet column: Backstage twists in blind trust case

Charlie Crist criticized every aspect of Gov. Rick Scott's record in a speech to the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee a few weeks ago.

When Crist was done, one of the first people to walk up and shake his hand was Jim Apthorp.

Yes, the man suing the state to protest the fact that Scott, or any other elected official, can place much of his investment portfolio in a blind trust.

Apthorp, 75, a Democrat, was chief of staff for Gov. Reubin Askew in the 1970s and he wanted to thank Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor, for his glowing remarks about Askew, who died in March at age 85.

"The references he made to Askew were right on," Apthorp said. "He did talk in a very friendly, approachable kind of way, but he was very tough. … He was just tough as nails."

Apthorp helped Askew rally voters in 1976 to pass the "Sunshine Amendment" to the state Constitution that requires elected officials to disclose their assets and liabilities as a safeguard against conflicts of interest. When lawmakers showed little enthusiasm for ethics reform even after a series of scandals, Askew took his case directly to the people and prevailed.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law that created rules for blind trusts, two years after Scott had obtained approval for one from the Commission on Ethics.

Apthorp said he began thinking of challenging the blind trust law last fall. He said Askew's death prompted him to rethink his former boss' legacy, and what he sees as an erosion of Florida's public records laws.

Apthorp says it violates the "full and public disclosure" language in the Sunshine Amendment for a politician to close off public access to his finances. He's the plaintiff in Apthorp vs. Detzner, a lawsuit pending before the Florida Supreme Court.

Apthorp says the lawsuit is not partisan and not aimed at Scott, who happens to be the only elected official with a blind trust.

"I have had no contact with the Crist campaign. I'm not a supporter of his," Apthorp said. "I'm concerned about the Askew legacy."

Republican legislative leaders scoff at Apthorp's talk, calling his suit "a cynically timed political ploy designed and timed to affect the outcome of this year's elections."

Apthorp's lawyers are Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte and his wife, Patsy Palmer. D'Alemberte, also a Democrat from Askew's era, served in the Legislature, as president of Florida State University, dean of its law school and as president of the American Bar Association.

D'Alemberte and Palmer filed their lawsuit two days after they completed a remarkable political journey with Scott's help. Scott signed the bill that allows noncitizen Jose Godinez-Samperio to get a law license.

Was the timing of the filing of the blind trust lawsuit a coincidence? Yes, D'Alemberte said, but he had assurances from Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera that Scott would sign the bill, so they filed the lawsuit.

"We were prepared to not be invited to a signing ceremony, had there been one," Palmer said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Steve Bousquet column: Backstage twists in blind trust case 05/19/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2014 9:51pm]
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