The former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to throw out the state's blind trust law, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that public officials to fully disclose their financial assets.
Jim Apthorp, who served as Askew's chief of staff, lost his appeal to the First District Court of Appeal last month, when the three-judge panel ruled that the lawsuit was "speculative" since no official was currently using the 2013 blind trust.
On Wednesday, Apthorp announced he is taking his appeal to the state's high court, saying the appeals court improperly sidestepped the question of whether the law was unconstitutional. Apthorp alleges the Florida Legislature violated the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust.
“As we seek review of the opinion of the First District Court of Appeal on our challenge to the blind trust law as an alternative to full and public disclosure of officials' financial interests, we are conscious of the tenacity shown by Gov. Askew in his effort to advance open government and require financial disclosure of public officials.” Apthorp said in a statement.
He noted that Askew bypassed the Legislature when he championed the Sunshine Amendment by taking it directly to the people “who endorsed it with their overwhelming support.”
“In our effort to preserve the principle of financial disclosure, we should be no less tenacious and we hope that the Court will accept jurisdiction to decide an issue that the First District opinion noted as an important constitutional issue,” he said.
The law allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form.
Apthorp is represented by Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, who urged the court to accept the case on the grounds that it "challenges a law which erodes the constitutional right of citizens to know about the financial interests of public officials.”
“If the courts do not hear claims of rights, the provisions of the constitution are without meaning,” he said.
The only public official to use the law is Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire former hospital chief executive. After the lawsuit was filed, however, Scott dissolved his blind trust and detailed his assets in his financial disclosure form filed in June when he announced his decision to seek re-election. He has since said he would re-establish the trust, thereby shielding his assets again for his second term.