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Florida media calls blind trust law 'barrier to access'

NEWS UPDATE: The Florida Supreme Court has transferred the case to Leon County Circuit Court.

A legal brief filed with the state Supreme Court by more than a dozen news outlets argues that a law allowing elected officials to place assets in blind trusts should be struck down as an "unconstitutional barrier to access."

As a result, the news outlets argue, they "have been unable to fully inform the public of the financial interests and possible conflicts of interests of Florida's elected officials." The legal brief says that because the blind trust law "limits the disclosure requirements of office holders and candidates for public office, that statute is unconstitutional and it is this Court's solemn duty to declare it void."

The news organizations are siding with Jim Apthorp, a former top aide to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, in arguing that the 2013 blind trust law is a violation of the financial disclosure law Askew championed, known as the Sunshine Amendment. Gov. Rick Scott is the only current elected official in Florida who has a blind trust, which he said he formed in 2011 to safeguard against conflicts of interest.

Scott's administration and the Legislature have filed briefs defending the blind trust law, saying it enhances public confidence in ethical government.

The news media's brief was filed by Holland & Knight on behalf of the First Amendment Foundation, the Florida Times Union, Florida Press Association, The Associated Press, The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bradenton Herald, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Florida Society of News Editors, The News-Press of Fort Myers, Pensacola News Journal, Florida Today, Tallahassee Democrat, First Coast News and WTSP-Channel 10 Tampa.

Apthorp has noted that newspaper editorial support of the Sunshine Amendment was critical to the passage of the referendum, and that some newspapers reprinted the petition form that voters needed to submit for the issue to get onto the 1976 ballot.