By James L. Rosica
Circuit Judge John C. Cooper asked Jim Apthorp’s attorney whether he should be going after the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In challenging a 2013 state law that permits use of the trusts, Apthorp had named Secretary of State Ken Detzner as defendant.
Detzner’s official duties include overseeing elections and campaign finance. Apthorp, a former top aide to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, wants Detzner’s office to reject the qualifying papers of candidates who list a blind trust.
Cooper noted the law in question isn’t so much an elections law as it is an ethics law. It spells out the use of “qualified blind trusts,” which shield their beneficiaries from knowing where money is coming from to avoid conflicts of interest.
“I just want to put everybody on notice,” Cooper said, in the matter’s first hearing after the Florida Supreme Court transferred it to local trial court.
“I’m not 100 percent convinced that the Secretary of State’s the right party,” he said, adding that appellate courts “have been real specific about who you sue on constitutional challenges.”
Virlindia Doss, the ethics commission’s executive director, couldn’t immediately be reached.
Apthorp says the blind trusts law violates the Sunshine Amendment, approved by voters in 1976, which calls for elected officials and candidates to “file full and public disclosure of their financial interests.”
Gov. Rick Scott, running for re-election, is the only statewide official who has a blind trust. His campaign has said the governor will follow the court’s future decision.
Apthorp’s attorney, Sandy D’Alemberte, was ill Wednesday and could not attend the hearing; lawyer Robert Kerrigan filled in. Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor is representing Detzner.
Kerrigan said the question would be addressed in a future filing.
Cooper also dismissed the idea that the case was an emergency matter, setting the next hearing for June 19. That’s three days after the start of the period when candidate’s submit their qualifications to run for state office.
Whatever his eventual decision, Cooper was mindful that his wouldn’t be the last word.
“We know it’s probably not going to stop here,” the judge said. “I’m just the first way station on the way to the big city.”