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Scott's blind trust OK for now as judge defers action

Critics of a law that allows elected officials to put their assets in blind trusts got some bad news Wednesday.

A circuit judge who was handed the case from the Florida Supreme Court said he saw no need to rule quickly and set a hearing date for June 19, after the start of the week-long qualifying period when candidates must disclose their finances. The only candidate currently affected by the case is Gov. Rick Scott, who put his assets in a qualified blind trust in 2011 with the approval of the Commission on Ethics.

"I actually do read the newspapers, and apparently there's only one candidate this would affect," Circuit Judge John Cooper said during a case management conference.

Cooper said he can't decide the case by the June 16th start of the qualifying period, which means Scott can qualify as a candidate for re-election on the fall ballot with his blind trust intact. The judge's comments were consistent with what an attorney for Secretary of State Ken Detzner also said in court.

"This is not an emergency," Assistant Attorney General Allen Winsor said. "This is not a new statute, and this is not a new issue."

The lawsuit was brought by Jim Apthorp, who as chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew helped obtain statewide voter approval of the 1976 "Sunshine Amendment" that requires elected officials to disclose their finances. Apthorp, a Democrat, said the Legislature's 2013 blind trust law violates that constitutional principle. Legislative leaders have called Apthorp's lawsuit a "cynical election year ploy" for partisan political gain. 

Judge Cooper also raised the possibility that because Apthorp's lawsuit challenges part of the ethics code, the Commission on Ethics might have to be added as a defendant in the case.