Pam Bondi to Supreme Court: Deny Blind-Trust Petition
Around the State
Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday called for the Florida Supreme Court to deny James Apthorp's petition asking for an "emergency" invalidation of a statute that allows political candidates to keep their investments in blind trusts.
Responding just before noon, Bondi said what petitioner Apthorp and his attorney, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, are asking is "to invalidate a statute that has been on the books for more than a year and to outlaw a practice that has been in place far longer."
By their very name, Apthorp told reporters during a Wednesday press conference, blind trusts violate the "full and public disclosure" language of the Sunshine Amendment.
D'Alemberte, respected former president of the American Bar Association, helped rally some of the state's largest newspapers to file supporting briefs with the court. D'Alemberte helped Askew draw up the Sunshine Amendment in 1967.
The lawsuit calls on the Supreme Court to strike down the law and block any candidates from qualifying for the ballot unless they file a full disclosure of all their finances. Financial disclosures are usually submitted during June qualifying, about two weeks away.
Only one candidate has investments in a blind trust, according to the 2013 law -- Gov. Rick Scott.
In her response, Bondi said of Apthorp, "He asks the court to change candidate qualification rules after one statutory qualifying period ended and just before another begins. And he seeks to impose on the secretary a new duty to evaluate financial disclosure documents for 'fullness,' when the Election Code specifically provides that the secretary may not look beyond the documents’ four corners."
Bondi's summary conclusion: "This court should deny the petition because there is no basis for jurisdiction, there is no merit to the legal claim, and there certainly is no emergency. ... Petitioner’s claim is that a candidate with a qualified blind trust cannot satisfy the 'full and public disclosure of financial interests' the Sunshine Amendment requires. See Art. II, § 8(b), Fla. Const. Petitioner is wrong ..."
The ethics package that was one of the top priorities of Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford in 2013 -- Senate Bill 2 -- includes and spells out blind trusts. The bill was passed unanimously. It was not challenged by any organization, even the First Amendment Foundation.
In 2010 blind trusts were recommended twice: once by a statewide grand jury and second by the Florida Commission on Ethics. They were seen as a vehicle for elected officials to avoid the appearance of conflicts between their public duties and private interests.
Gaetz and Weatherford filed a brief of their own, explaining the law and what a blind trust accomplishes: "A qualified blind trust removes the temptation of a public official to advance his or her private interests over the public good. Without any knowledge of the particular assets held by the trust, the public official lacks even the ability to act in his or her self-interest."
Melissa Sellers, Rick Scott's campaign manager, issued this written statement on behalf of the governor:
"Governor Scott will comply with whatever the courts decide. If the courts believe the governor’s blind trust should be dissolved, the governor will gladly dissolve it.”
The Supreme Court issued a tweet Monday afternoon announcing it has made available all briefs and documents in the blind-trusts case -- Case No. 14-924 -- in Acrobat format and its own file. Click here.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.