ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala is taking the state down a slippery slope in her fight against the death penalty.
Ayala announced in March that she doesn’t plan to seek the death penalty in any cases her office prosecutes. In April, she filed cases against the governor in Florida’s Supreme Court and at the federal level.
Attorney General Pam Bondi on Wednesday filed hundreds of pages supporting Gov. Scott’s decision to take 23 murder cases away Ayala’s office following the death penalty decision.
Bondi and Scott said in the filing that Ayala wants a law struck down that she herself has taken advantage of that allows the governor’s office to issue executive orders reassigning criminal cases to a state attorney somewhere other than where the crime happened.
"When the Supreme Court examines these cases, they take the long view, not the short view. What effect is their ruling going to have 10 years down the road," WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said.
Sheaffer believes Scott will win.
Ayala has used the law when she wants a case moved. According to the filing, the newly elected state attorney has made six requests for the governor to transfer cases away from her control. Four of those requests are said to have been specifically asking the governor to assign cases to Lake and Marion County State Attorney Brad King, who’s also handling the 23 murder cases at the center of this litigation.
The governor's office argues that it's dangerous for Ayala to claim Scott can only use the law at her request, and not at his own discretion.
The dispute stems largely from the Markeith Loyd murder case. He's accused of killing his ex-girlfriend in December and an Orlando police lieutenant in January. Pressure for an announcement on Ayala's decision regarding the death penalty in his case resulted in the press conference at which she announced a general policy against using the death penalty while she was in office.
Bondi’s response Wednesday strikes at the heart of Ayala’s claim that she’s entitled to unchecked prosecutorial discretion.
“Whether illegal or not,” Bondi wrote, “Ayala’s categorical policy declaration ‘I will not be seeking (the) death penalty in the cases handled in my office’ does not involve a traditional exercise in prosecutorial discretion. Instead, it announces an across-the-board determination not to exercise discretion.”
The filing goes on to complain that Ayala’s view of the law sets up a situation, if unchallenged, in which any prosecutor could refuse to enforce any law at any time.
"Ayala asks this court to rule that a duly-enacted state statute is unconstitutional; … that a state attorney may categorically refuse to enforce any and all state laws with which she disagrees, and that the various instrumentalities of the state are all powerless to do anything about it." the filing states.
Channel 9's Field Sutton found out Ayala asked the governor - under the same statute she's fighting as unconstitutional - to reassign another case involving Loyd in the days that followed his orders removing Loyd's two murder cases from her control. That case alleges Loyd's illegal possession of firearms.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office claimed that was one of many reasons the Supreme Court needs to think long and hard about Ayala's argument.
The state attorney's office released a statement Thursday evening:
“Gov. Scott’s response shows that he continues to overstate his power under Florida law. As one example of his baseless arguments, he criticizes State Attorney Ayala after he specifically ordered her office to turn over all matters related to Markeith Loyd.
“What Gov. Scott has done is an illegal and unprecedented power grab that threatens the independence and integrity of Florida’s judicial system, and we look forward to responding to this filing by May 8.”
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