Central Florida House Republicans push Scott to boot Ayala from office

A handful of GOP state House members from Central Florida aren’t backing down from their demands that Gov. Rick Scott remove 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala from office, even after the governor stripped the Orange-Osceola prosecutor of nearly two dozen cases yesterday.

Ayala generated a firestorm when she announced last month that she would not seek the death penalty in any capital cases, including the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd.

Within hours of her March 16 announcement, Scott reassigned the Loyd case to neighboring prosecutor Brad King, state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, who is an outspoken proponent of the death penalty.

On Monday, Scott reassigned another 21 death penalty cases from Ayala’s office to King.

Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, has held a series of press conferences demanding that Scott remove Ayala from office, or that the prosecutor resign.

Flanked by several other Central Florida Republicans Tuesday morning, Cortes reiterated that request, accusing Ayala of “abusing prosecutorial discretion” by refusing to seek the death penalty.

Scott’s handling of Ayala has elicited outrage from black leaders, including the NAACP, and reignited a discussion about racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty.

More than a hundred legal experts, former judges and onetime prosecutors — most of them opponents of the death penalty — sent a letter to Scott, challenging his authority to remove Ayala from office.

When asked if Scott’s ouster of Ayala, as demanded, could potentially spark even more racial tension, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said lawmakers are focused on “policy consequences” of the issue.

“The political consequences are very far down the list,” Plakon told reporters.

Cortes indicated that the focus on Ayala would have been avoided had she not spoken up.

“If she would not have made the statement that she was not seeking the death penalty …  I don’t think any of us would be up here,” Cortes said.

Speaking to the Florida Legislative Black Caucus in Tallahassee, Ayala said Monday night she has “a duty and a responsibility to seek justice and do what’s right.”
“I need people to continue to get the word out there. This is a legally sound position I’ve taken,” she said.

Cortes and his crew held the press conference the same day The New York Times published an op-ed, entitled “Florida’s Vengeful Governor,” penned by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, a black Democrat from Orlando who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee.

Bracy sponsored a measure, signed by Scott, aimed at fixing the state’s death penalty by requiring unanimous jury recommendations for the sentence to be imposed.

Ayala’s criticism of capital punishment — that it does not deter crime and often results in protracted appeals that can exacerbate victims’ families anguish — was correct, Bracy wrote.

“This is not just a dispute over the death penalty. It’s also about the governor’s brazen lack of respect for prosecutorial independence, which is critical to the functioning of the legal system,” he wrote. “Not only is it unclear whether the governor has the authority to make these reassignments, but in substituting his judgment for Ms. Ayala’s, he is also sending a dangerous message to prosecutors in Florida that politics will supersede their discretion.”

___ Posted by Dara Kam