John Goodman, 48, appears to have come upon a legal strategy that clenches the title of the worst person in the world. Goodman, the wealthy founder of the International Polo Club Beach in Wellington, was arrested after he killed Scott Patrick Wilson, 23, while driving drunk. Facing a civil lawsuit from his family, Goodman has legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, as his daughter to protect some of his money.
Goodman faces criminal charges in the vehicular homicide after he was found to be driving with a BAL of over twice the legal limit . . . hours after the crash. He ran a stop sign and killed Wilson.
In depositions, it was established Hutchins has been dating Goodman since 2009. Since the court has ruled that a trust for Goodman’s two minor children cannot be considered part of his estate for the purposes of a wrongful death award, Goodman appears to conjured up this scheme to gain control over one-third of the estate. Since the girlfriend is an adult, she would immediately gain access to the money. While it would be wonderful for her to now leave the man, the scheme is designed to deny damages to the family.
Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley calls the scheme a matter pushing the court into “legal twilight zone.” I would put it more as a human twilight zone. I am not sure how an attorney would agree to be part of such a scheme, but his counsel, Dan Bachi, reportedly told reporters that the adoption was finalized to ensure his family’s stability. Bachi told reporters that the move has nothing to do with the current litigation.
The court promised to look into the matter but held that “Mr. Goodman asserts that the adoption makes Ms. Hutchins a beneficiary and, until a probate court holds otherwise, this Court will assume this is true.”
We have previously seen bizarre adult adoptions, such as the adoption of a white supremacist by the attorneys charged in the gruesome Whipple dog attack case. However, putting aside the obvious effort to shelter assets, it would seem that the adoption when combined with state law makes this an arguable case of incest. However, the statute defines incest by “lineal consanguinity.”
Whoever knowingly marries or has sexual intercourse with a person to whom he or she is related by lineal consanguinity, or a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece, commits incest, which constitutes a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. “Sexual intercourse” is the penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ, however slight; emission of semen is not required.
Moreover, the adoption rules do not prohibit adopting child who you have and intend to sleep with as long as it is not a minor:
63.042 Who may be adopted; who may adopt.—
(1) Any person, a minor or an adult, may be adopted.
(2) The following persons may adopt:
(a) A husband and wife jointly;
(b) An unmarried adult; or
(c) A married person without the other spouse joining as a petitioner, if the person to be adopted is not his or her spouse, and if:
1. The other spouse is a parent of the person to be adopted and consents to the adoption; or
2. The failure of the other spouse to join in the petition or to consent to the adoption is excused by the court for good cause shown or in the best interest of the child.
(3) No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.
(4) No person eligible under this section shall be prohibited from adopting solely because such person possesses a physical disability or handicap, unless it is determined by the court or adoption entity that such disability or handicap renders such person incapable of serving as an effective parent.
History.—s. 4, ch. 73-159; s. 1, ch. 77-140; s. 1, ch. 80-194; s. 4, ch. 92-96; s. 336, ch. 95-147; s. 4, ch. 2003-58.
My immediate question is whether Goodman revealed his true relationship in the adoption papers. It is difficult to imagine an adoption petition with a caveat of continued consortium with the daughter.
The matter may come down to the inherent authority of the court to protect against schemes to shelter assets and deprive parties from full recovery of damages. This is going to be messy. Presumably the court will not reexamine the two-thirds left to the kids despite the manipulation of the trust by Goodman. It could conceivably rule that the one-third is now part of the estate, but that would present a case of first impression for Goodman to challenge. In the meantime, he may seek to use these funds to pay counsel. What would be interesting is if the court finds that this move throws the entire trust into question — potentially exposing the trust assets to recovery in a damages award. That seems unlikely.
I am sure that Plaintiffs’ counsel would love to put this factoid in front of the jury but there are strict rules barring financial and insurance information from being introduced to protect a defendant from jury bias. However, it would be interesting if he takes the stand and is asked how many children he has and their ages. I suspect that there will be a Motion in limine on the issue. However, it would be a fact that would be known to the judge at sentencing in his criminal case. If he stands to apologize to the family, the rules are looser on what can be stated in response.
As for counsel, the move raises some ethical concerns. Yet, it appears that this manuever is plausible legally. While many attorneys would refuse to have anything to do with such a move, it may not be technically unethical if this is a case of first impression and there is no law to prohibit the move. It seems likely that this distasteful action will result in demands for greater clarity in either the adoption or trust rules or both.
By the way, here is the man that Goodman allegedly killed:
Source: Palm Beach Post