Scott fights financial disclosure lawsuit

A lawyer for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday asked a state appellate court to block a lawsuit seeking to force the governor to disclose more of his financial assets.

A Leon County circuit judge in February rejected Scott’s request to dismiss the case, which was filed by a Tallahassee attorney seeking to require Scott to provide more disclosure, including details of a blind trust. Scott is the richest governor in state history and had a December 2017 net worth of $232 million, with $215 million in the blind trust.

Scott asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn the circuit judge’s decision and issue a “writ of prohibition,” blocking the lawsuit filed by Donald Hinkle, a lawyer and Democratic fundraiser.

Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for Scott, said compliance with the state’s financial-disclosure laws should be decided by the Florida Commission on Ethics and not by the circuit court. Hinkle has filed complaints with the ethics panel alleging Scott is not making a full disclosure of his financial assets, but the complaints have been dismissed.

“This court should issue a writ of prohibition because the circuit court is attempting to exercise jurisdiction that the law assigns to the Commission on Ethics,” Nordby told a three-member panel of the appellate court.

But Hinkle said there needs to be “mechanism” to appeal financial-disclosure decisions by the ethics commission.

“It was dismissed. We cannot appeal. That’s the end of the road,” Hinkle said. “Is there to be no opportunity to review the disclosures of any elected official, every constitutional officer in this state?”

Hinkle has alleged that Scott should be disclosing more of his blind-trust assets and assets in a revocable trust under First Lady Ann Scott, because the governor has knowledge or control over some of those assets. Under state law, public officials do not have to disclose assets owned by their spouses in annual financial-disclosure filings.

A financial-disclosure report filed late last month showed Scott’s net worth rose $83 million in 2017, but the disclosure provided few details. The disclosure showed his blind trust rose from $130.5 million in 2016 to $215 million and produced $120 million in income last year.

The joint Tallahassee bureau of the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times reported the rise was related to an $825 million sale in 2017 of a Michigan-based plastics components company in which the Scott family had a major ownership interest.

Hinkle said more of those details need to be disclosed to the public under the state’s “Sunshine Amendment,” which was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1976.

“I urge the court not to allow the Commission on Ethics to say we’re not considering this and that be the end of the road,” Hinkle said.

Nordby said the ethics commission reviewed Hinkle’s allegations “and concluded that the disclosures filed by the governor reflected, quote, compliance by the governor with the financial disclosure requirements of the Constitution and related statutes.”

“So the suggestion the ethics commission said we’re not going to look at it is simply belied by the record in this case,” he said.

The appellate court did not rule Tuesday. But regardless of its decision, the debate over Scott’s financial disclosures will continue later this month when he must file another report as part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Federal disclosure laws are broader than the Florida requirements, meaning Scott will have to provide more details on his finances.

Appellate Judge Ross Bilbrey asked whether the fact that Scott would be making those federal disclosures would cause a decision in the state litigation to be “moot.”

“I don’t think it’s moot at all,” Hinkle said. “This applies to every office-holder, not just the governor.”


Information provided by The News Service of Florida.