A wealthy Florida man has set off a firestorm by legally adopting his 42-year-old girlfriend as he prepares for a potentially costly wrongful death suit.
John Goodman, 49, founder of the tony International Polo Club in Wellington, Fla., was involved in a crash on Feb. 12, 2010 that killed 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson. Local police say Goodman ran a stop sign while driving with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit in Florida.
While Goodman faces criminal charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident that carry a possible 30-year prison term in a trial set for March 6, he also faces a civil suit from William and Lili Wilson over the death of their son. That trial is set to begin March 27.
In recently released court documents, the Wilsons learned that Goodman had legally adopted his girlfriend Heather Hutchins in October. Attorneys for the Wilsons say it was a blatant move to protect his assets.
"It cannot go unrecognized that [Goodman] chose to adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend as opposed to a needy child," The Palm Beach Post newspaper quoted family attorney Scott Smith as saying.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley had previously ruled a trust fund Goodman had established for his two minor children could not be considered an asset in any court-rewarded damages to the Wilson family. Now, with Hutchins also considered Goodman's daughter, she is entitled to one-third of the trust fund, and as an adult over 35 she can begin drawing money from the fund immediately.
Judge Kelley was critical of Goodman's move in his order granting the Wilson family the right to information regarding the adoption. Kelley said the adoption "border(s) on the surreal," The Palm Beach Post reported.
"The Court cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done," Judge Kelley wrote. "The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children's trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case."
While Goodman's move has tongues wagging on the society scene in south Florida, a state adoption expert told WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach that Goodman adopting his girlfriend may not be strictly legal.
"Adoption means the act of creating the legal relationship between parent and child where it did not exist," adoption attorney Charlotte Danciu told the station.
"Unless you intend to create the parent-child relationship, you are violating the letter of the law."
A probate court is expected to rule on the legitimacy of Hutchins, in effect, becoming an heir to Goodman's children's trust fund. Goodman's attorney Dan Bachi told The Palm Beach Post the adoption was only undertaken to stabilize the children's future through the trust. "It has nothing to do with the lawsuit currently pending against him," Bachi said.