Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle's persistent legal battle to force Gov. Rick Scott to disclose everything he has invested in while in office goes before a panel of appellate court judges today.
Hinkle alleges that the governor is violating the state's financial disclosure and blind trust laws by failing to report the assets he controls in partnerships and his wife's revocable trusts.
A multi-millionaire hospital executive, Scott has shielded his assets from the public and, allegedly himself, by holding them in a blind trust that is managed by a financial advisor who has worked with the governor for decades.
Scott claims he knows nothing about his investments, including the fact that in 2017 he and his family made as much as $550 million from the sale of a Michigan plastics company that Scott ran for five years before becoming governor.
Hinkle not only casts doubts on the governor's claim that he knows nothing about his investments, he argues that because the list of of assets provided the governor on his disclosure form is proof he is violating the blind trust law.
The assets "show that Governor Scott has many investments with restrictions on their transfer or sale, or in which transfer of the assets by the trustee would be 'improbable or impractical' without Governor Scott’s knowledge."
Because "such assets are not appropriate for a 'blind' trust,'' Hinkle alleges the governor is violating the law.
The governor's lawyers argue that the Florida Commission on Ethics is the proper venue to bring a financial disclosure claim and in April asked Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers to dismiss the case.
Gievers refused to dismiss the case and the governor's lawyer's appealed that ruling. The oral arguments before the three-judge panel will be heard today.
Hinkle had tried and failed three times to get the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate the governor's financial disclosures. But the commission, whose members the governor appointed, dismissed the complaints without investigating the federal documents.
Hinkle wanted commissioners to investigate why Scott signed federal securities documents indicating he was the "beneficial owner" of assets in his wife's trust, but he didn't report them as assets on his own financial disclosure form.
"When reporting his financial interests to Floridians on his financial disclosure, Governor Scott does not include or identify eachasset of the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust,'' Hinkle wrote in the lawsuit filed in November. "...it would be improbable or impractical for the trustee to sell or transfer assets held in this trust without the Governor’s knowledge or consent."
All of this may be moot for Scott, a candidate for U.S. Senate. In two weeks, Scott's federal financial disclosure report is due and, unlike state law, federal disclosure law requires that Scott disclose all the assets of his wife as well as his own.
But there may be long-term implications of Hinkle's lawsuit. The precedent established by the lawsuit could play out if any of the millionaires running for governor get elected and create a blind trust, as some have said they would.
Meanwhile, Scott has asked for a 90-day extension to file his disclosure. The clock runs out on July 29.
Given the governor’s recent disclosure that he earned $120 million more in income in 2017 than the year before, and a Herald/Times investigation that found that the governor and his family may have earned as much as $550 million from a single transaction, questions continue to emerge about how blind Scott’s blind trust really is.