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Lawsuit blocked on Rick Scott financial disclosure

An appeals court Friday blocked a lawsuit aimed at requiring Gov. Rick Scott to disclose more information about his financial assets, saying such issues should be handled by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Scott, the wealthiest Governor in state history, took the issue to the 1st District Court of Appeal after a Leon County circuit judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Tallahassee attorney Donald Hinkle. The case centered, in part, on whether Scott should have provided more information about assets in a blind trust when filing state financial-disclosure forms.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court granted what is known as a “writ of prohibition” barring the circuit judge from taking any further action in the case. The five-page ruling agreed with Scott’s argument that only the Commission on Ethics “has constitutional authority to investigate Mr. Hinkle’s complaint.”

“When the Florida Constitution prescribes the manner of doing something, doing it in a different manner is prohibited,” said the ruling by appeals-court judges Lori Rowe, Timothy Osterhaus and Ross Bilbrey.

“And here, where the circuit court has assumed improper authority over a matter outside of its jurisdiction, and with another administrative body having been granted explicit jurisdiction by the Florida Constitution and the statutory scheme to review the complaint, it is appropriate to grant a writ of prohibition.”

State officials, such as Scott, are required to file financial-disclosure forms each year that list information about assets, liabilities and income. Scott, however, placed his assets in a blind trust while in office and, as a result, his disclosures largely lacked details about his wide variety of financial holdings.

In June, Scott filed a state financial-disclosure form showing a net worth as of Dec. 31, 2017 of nearly $232.6 million. In July, as part of his successful U.S. Senate campaign, Scott was required to file a more-detailed federal report, which provided a wide range of information about his finances and the finances of his wife, Ann.

Also, Scott filed an updated state financial-disclosure report in September that said he revoked the blind trust on July 25. As a result, the September report provides details about the $232.6 million net worth cited in the earlier report.

Hinkle, a Democratic fundraiser, filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court seeking more disclosure after earlier taking complaints to the Commission on Ethics. The commission dismissed his complaints.

Hinkle said in July, as the appeals court heard arguments, that there needs to be “mechanism” to appeal financial-disclosure decisions by the ethics commission.

“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.

During the July hearing, Hinkle also rejected the notion that the case was moot because Scott was required to file the broader federal disclosure for his U.S. Senate campaign.

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

In a statement to Florida Politics on Friday, he added he was “disappointed because the Ethics Commission did not review or investigate the complaints; it simply dismissed them as ‘insufficient,’ leaving no opportunity for appeal.

“I think the Legislature should look at adding teeth to the disclosure requirement of the Sunshine Amendment,” he added.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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