A wealthy Florida polo club founder has adopted his longtime adult girlfriend in what attorneys believe may be a legal maneuver to protect his financial assets--which he estimates as "several hundred million dollars"--as he faces a trial for a drunk driving incident that killed a 23-year-old.
John Goodman, 48, formally adopted Heather Laruso Hutchins, 42, in October 2011. The couple started dating in 2009. Goodman is the founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Fla.
West Palm Beach Judge Glenn Kelley wrote in a court order that the twists in the case "border on the surreal and take the Court into a legal twilight zone."
"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," the judge wrote.
Goodman is being sued by Lili and William Wilson for the wrongful death of their son Scott Patrick Wilson, who had come home from college for his sister's birthday, and died in a car crash on Feb. 12, 2010.
According to police, Goodman, who was driving a Bentley, ran a stop sign and slammed into Wilson's car. Goodman did not call police or an ambulance, and left the crash scene on foot, police said. It was determined that Goodman's blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.
Man Adopts Girlfriend, 42, Before Civil Suit Over DUI Death
Goodman's civil trial is set for March 27 and his criminal trial for charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash is on March 6. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Neither of Goodman's two biological children have reached the age of 35, the pre-determined age at which they can control their trust funds. Since Hutchins is over the age of 35, her adoption entitles her immediately to a one-third beneficiary interest in the trust.
The court had previously ruled that the assets owned by Goodman's children could not be considered part of his net worth in the calculations for assessing punitive damages for the Wilson family, but the family thinks the adoption should change the ruling.
"Plaintiffs view the adoption of Ms. Hutchins as a 'game-changer' and as grounds to now include the assets of the children's trust, at least in some fashion, in the punitive damages calculation," Kelley wrote.
Attorneys representing the Wilsons believe that the move is Goodman's way of maintaining control of his money.
"By way of this adoption John Goodman effectively owns or has direct control of one-third of the trust assets," Wilson family attorney Scott Smith told ABCNews.com in an email. "It cannot go unrecognized that he has adopted his 42-year-old adult girlfriend as opposed to a child in need."
Goodman established the trust for his children in 1991 with $1.5 million. Within seven years, that trust had grown to more than $100 million and is currently worth "several hundred million dollars," according to his attorney.
"Nothing in this arrangement with Ms. Hutchins is illegal," Goodman's attorney Daniel Bachi said in a statement. "Everything that has been done by Mr. Goodman was done with the intention to preserve and grow the assets of the Trust for his two minor children, even should he personally be unable to continue his historical role in achieving these goals."
Bachi maintains that the adoption will have "no effect on the civil proceedings" and that Goodman does not benefit from it.
"Mr. Goodman asserts that the adoption makes Ms. Hutchings a beneficiary and, until a probate court holds otherwise, this Court will assume this is true," Kelley wrote.
The judge wrote that a probate court with jurisdiction over the trust will determine whether the adoption is a "sham," as it relates to the children's trust.
On Jan. 25, a Palm Beach County judge denied Goodman's request to move the trial to Miami due to the negative publicity and attention he has received in the Palm Beach area since the accident.
"March will be an exhausting and understandably difficult time for Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, but they are prepared to move forward in honor of their only son's memory," Smith wrote.