The former chief of staff for the late Gov. Reubin Askew filed an emergency petition at the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday challenging the legality of the state’s 2013 blind trust law.
The 27-page petition by James Apthorp urged the court to prohibit the use of blind trusts by public officials to avoid full financial disclosure and invalidate two opinions by the Commission on Ethics that held blind trusts are an acceptable form of disclosure.
Likewise, the justices were asked to order Secretary of State Ken Detzner to refuse to accept the qualifying papers of any candidates who attempt to use blind trusts to veil their assets from public view.
“Governor Askew’s commitment to full and public disclosure is a major part of his legacy,” said Apthorp of his former boss, who died March 13 at 85. “Florida voters supported full disclosure when they overwhelming passed Askew’s Sunshine Amendment in 1976. Blind trusts circumvent the full public disclosure mandated by the Constitution, and we’re asking the Supreme Court to prohibit officials from using them to shield sources and amounts of income from the public.”
Florida’s qualified blind trust law, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on May 1, 2013, allows public officers to find legal safe harbor from prohibited conflicts of interest by using such trusts to hold their assets outside their knowledge or control.
To date, the Republican governor is the only public officer in Florida to create a qualified blind trust to shield his assets, which is worth in excess of $70 million. Former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat who lost to Scott in 2010, also employed a blind trust, but before the law’s passage.
BrowardBulldog.org reported in March that Florida’s blind trust law has been ineffective in preventing public disclosure of Gov. Scott’s personal riches. Millions of dollars in large stock transactions made by the governor’s blind trust, whose trustee is New York-based Hollow Brook Wealth Management, are public record due to Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure requirements.
“The Sunshine Amendment requires that things be revealed; blind trusts require that things be concealed,” the petition says. “It would be absurd to conclude that the latter is an adequate substitute for the former.”
Candidates for public office will begin qualifying next month.
Representing Apthorp is former Florida State University President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, who is also a former president of the American Bar Association, and his wife and law partner, Patsy Palmer.