A wealthy Florida man has adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend as a daughter in a move critics say will protect the man's assets during an upcoming lawsuit surrounding a deadly car accident.
Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman, 48, adopted his longtime partner Heather Laruso Hutchins in October, The Palm Beach Post reports.
The strategy could shore up Goodman's wealth as he confronts a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Scott Patrick Wilson, The Associated Press says. Wilson was killed in 2010 when Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign. The trial begins March 27.
Goodman had previously set up a trust for his two minor children. If Wilson's parents win their civil suit, they cannot receive any compensation from the trust, The Post reports.
Hutchins, as Goodman's third legal child, is now entitled to a third of the money in the trust. However, another court could later rule that Hutchins isn't entitled to a share of the trust, Fox News reports.
A lawyer for the Wilson family claims it's a ploy for Goodman to keep money for himself. But Dan Bachi, Goodman's lawyer, told The Palm Beach Post, the adoption is to guarantee his children's future and denied that it was spurred by the lawsuit.
Florida attorney Charlotte Danciu said in an interview with TV station WPEC that Goodman is abusing the state's adoption law, which is designed to create parent-child relationships.
Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley, who granted attorneys for Liz and William Wilson the right to information to about the adoption, described Goodman's gambit as "border[ing] on the surreal," and said it put the court in a "legal twilight zone."
Sobriety tests revealed that Goodman was driving with a blood-alcohol level two times above the legal limit on the night Wilson died. Besides the civil case, he faces a March trial for vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, and leaving the scene of a crime. Those charges carry a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley's role. He gave the lawyers for Scott Patrick Wilson's parents the right to see information about John Goodman's adoption. He did not approve the adoption. We regret the error.