The First District Court of Appeal will consider briefs filed by Common Cause Florida and a colleague of the late Gov. Reuben Askew in a case challenging the state’s blind trust law. The First District Court of Appeal Wednesday said it will accept documents from Florida State University professor Lance deHaven Smith and former House Speaker Jon Mills, among others, in a suit alleging the blind trust law is inconsistent with the Sunshine Amendment that Askew championed.
The Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping ethics reform bill last year changing financial disclosure requirements. Rather than require officials to list investments on a disclosure form it provides a blind trust option, allowing individuals to establish a trust managed by a third party. That single account is what is disclosed. Critics argue this circumvents the constitutional safeguard alerting citizens to an official’s potential conflict of interest.
It is believed that Gov. Rick Scott is the only official using the law to shield his investments from public disclosure.
“Since the public official does not know how the trust has managed the assets or what precisely it holds, he or she cannot have a conflict of interest relating to those assets,” Judge John Cooper wrote in a ruling Apthorp appealed and is now in the First District Court.
Apthorp’s attorneys recruited deHaven-Smith, Common Cause and Mills, a constitutional expert and former law school dean, to explain how the 2013 law circumvents the intent of the disclosure requirements promoted by Askew as a clean government initiative. Democratic Attorney General candidate George Sheldon argued in a separate suit that the blind trust law enables officials to “construct a complex web of investment vehicles” to hide money and conceal interests.
Lance deHaven-Smith taught alongside Askew and has written 15 books mostly about Florida government. The filing states his brief will “demonstrate that Florida’s blind trust statute prevents the full and public financial disclosure required by the Florida Constitution.”
Common Cause has 50,000 members in Florida. The filing states that the organization worked closely with Askew to draft the Sunshine Amendment and then worked for its passage. While supporting most of the 2013 law Common Cause opposed the blind trust provision.
Apthorp’s attorneys also submitted a series of articles about Scott’s finances and the blind trust law written by Dan Christensen in the Broward Bulldog. The court accepted the submissions. Among the articles is one about the trustee managing Scott’s money. Another is focused on Scott’s investments.
The First District Court will review the trial Court record and additional materials submitted and decide if the trial judge may any legal errors that would warranting either a new trail or an outright reversal of Cooper’s ruling. The case docket can be viewed here.