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Justices Hand Blind Trusts Lawsuit to Circuit Court

May 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

Florida Supreme Court justices on Wednesday handed off an "emergency lawsuit" challenging elected officials use of blind trusts to the Leon County Circuit Court.

The suit claims a broad ethics law passed in 2013 is unconstitutional, that it violates Florida's Sunshine Amendment by allowing an officeholder's investments to be hidden from public inspection.

Jim Apthorp, former chief of staff to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, filed the lawsuit with Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte on May 14. Apthorp denied the suit was timed to harass Gov. Rick Scott -- the only official who has a blind trust. He said he did it to honor Askew, considered the father of the 1976 Sunshine Amendment. Askew died last year before he could do it himself, Apthorp said.

Earlier Wednesday Apthorp's attorneys had filed a motion asking for oral arguments in the Supreme Court. But shortly after, justices sent the case to the lower court.

It is not immediately clear whether the case can be heard before June 16 qualifying begins. D'Alemberte wanted the law allowing blind trusts dissolved by the qualifying period.

After the case was passed to the circuit court, Apthorp issued a written statement.

"We are confident our attorneys and ethics advocates who have joined our case will prevail when the case is tried in the circuit court," he said. "We urge the circuit court to expedite legal proceedings in this important case."

On Monday, the League of Women Voters and several Florida newspapers filed letters of support for the suit. Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford filed to have the case dismissed.

Scott has said he will follow the law, whatever the courts decide.

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