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Polo club's John Goodman, facing lawsuit, adopts girlfriend, 42

February 2, 2012 | 10:23 am

John Goodman, the wealthy founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, seems a bit young -- some accounts say 48, others say 49 -- to have a 42-year-old daughter. Nonetheless, he does. He’s legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend.

The fact that Goodman is being sued in civil court over a fatal car accident in Palm Beach County, Fla. -- and the move could protect his assets -- has nothing to do with the adoption, his attorney says.

Perhaps, but the maneuver has surprised even the judge in the civil case, who called it "unprecedented" and "surreal," according to the Palm Beach Post. The move takes the court into a "legal twilight zone," the judge said.

Authorities say Goodman was driving drunk on Feb. 12, 2010, when he ran a stop sign and slammed into a car driven by Scott Patrick Wilson, 23, killing him. Goodman allegedly fled the scene of the crash and, when found later, he reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit.

Goodman has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the case, including vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash. He faces a criminal trial next month and, if convicted, could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Goodman is also being sued in civil court by the parents of the young man who was killed.

And it seems safe to say that everyone connected to the case was surprised to learn that Goodman  legally adopted his girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, on Oct. 13 in Miami-Dade County.

The Post reports that Kelley had previously ruled that the trust set up for Goodman's two minor children could not be considered as part of Goodman's financial worth if a jury awarded damages to the Wilsons. The trust is now effectively split three ways, the newspaper says, due to the adoption of Hutchins, who told the court she began dating Goodman in 2009.

Attorneys for the Wilsons say that Goodman is manipulating the system, using the trust to shield his sizable assets and then adopting his girlfriend so he can use her to gain access to that money.

Goodman's assets are worth "several hundred million dollars," his attorney told ABC News.

But Dan Bachi, Goodman's civil attorney, told the Post that critics have it all wrong. Hutchins' adoption was done to ensure the future stability of his children and family investments, he told the newspaper. "It has nothing to do with the lawsuit currently pending against him," Bachi said.

The judge so far seems to be siding with the Wilsons. And a recent ruling seems to suggest that the legal gambit -- if that's what it is -- might backfire.

"The Court cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done," Kelley wrote in court documents obtained by the Post. "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."

And then there's the impact that the adoption headlines -- the case is tabloid fodder throughout Florida -- might have on prospective jurors in both the civil and criminal cases. It will be hard if not impossible to keep them from hearing about it, and they might not like what they hear.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

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