New Developments In Case Of State Attorney Aramis Ayala
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Approaching two months since her removal by Florida Governor Rick Scott, State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed a legal document Monday which responded to accusations brought out by Scott in their ongoing lawsuit over the prosecutor's death penalty stance.
The document was filed Monday with the Florida Supreme Court.
Ayala is contesting Scott's series of executive orders to transfer almost two dozen cases from her office after she said her office wouldn't pursue the death penalty against accused double murderer Markeith Loyd or any other capital punishment case.
Ayala filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against Gov. Scott, who removed her from twenty-three capital cases. The primary case which drew Ayala criticism is that of accused killer Markeith Loyd. Lake county based State Attorney Brad King has replaced Ayala and has assumed her caseload.
In the complaint against Scott and King, Ayala states Scott violated the U.S. Constitution and “deprived voters in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of their chosen State Attorney,” by removing her from the cases.
“The governor did not take this step because of any misconduct on Ayala’s part, but simply because he disagreed with her reasoned prosecutorial determination not to seek the death penalty under current circumstances,” reads the complaint.
King was not elected by voters of Orange and Osceola Counties and is a “well-known supporter of the death penalty,” according to Ayala’s documents.
Florida law grants state attorneys the authority to seek capital punishment, but the Florida Constitution does not require them to do so.
Article 5, Section 17 of the Florida State Constitution, have been antagonists documented basis of opposition which they say proves the Governor has the right to remove any elected official which isn’t fulfilling their duty.
However, in a March 20 motion filed by Ayala’s office, the State Attorney countered using the same Article 5, Section 17, which, as one reads further, states that a state attorney retains all power over charging and prosecutorial decisions.
The section goes on to say that the State Attorney shall be the prosecuting officer over all trials in that circuit and shall perform other duties as described by general law.
In part thirteen of her motion, Ayala cited Florida Statute 27.14, which says that a Governor can only remove a State Attorney if said Governor deems that justice will not be exercised. Ayala maintains life imprisonment, through her discretion as justice against Loyd, not the death penalty.
“Scott stands by his decision to assign State Attorney Brad King to prosecute Markeith Loyd after State Attorney Ayala refused to recuse herself. Markeith Loyd is accused of executing Lt. Debra Clayton, a brave law enforcement hero who was on the ground fighting for her life, and murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon.” A statement from Governor Rick Scott’s office said.
“Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis was also killed while actively searching for Loyd. As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served.”
Timeline of the Latest in State Legislature versus Ayala
-State Attorney Ayala states that Governor Scott’s Action was “Unconstitutional” (April 11, 2017)
- Florida taxpayers foot bill for State Attorney Ayala's fight against death penalty (April 18, 2017)
-Receives Noose in the Mail (April 20, 2017)
-Emails between then Candidate Ayala and Anti-Death Penalty Groups Surface (April 20, 2017)
What’s New with Ayala’s New Suit
Last Monday's recent filings suggested Scott told citizens who’d written to him to complain about four recent cases that he couldn't intervene because the state attorney is an elected official.
The court papers suggest that Scott has either been less than honest with citizens or his views have changed in Ayala's case.
"Either Scott was being less than honest with these citizens or his view has suddenly changed. In his opposition, Scott now claims that he can reassign state attorneys against their will whenever he wants, and for whatever reason he wants, as long as doing so is not 'without any reason whatsoever,'" the document reads.
The argument also accuses Scott of abusing his power, suggesting that cases should be reassigned only if a state attorney is charged with “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony,” none of which apply to Ayala.
"Importantly, nowhere in his opposition does Scott argue that Ayala has somehow failed to do her job—and wisely so, because that charge would be unfounded. Ayala did not refuse to prosecute capital cases or pledge to seek lenient sentences for convicted killers. She was—and is—zealously prosecuting crimes in her judicial circuit," the filing reads.
In contrast to previous cases that Scott has shifted to other prosecutors, Ayala said she did not give her consent to have Scott "shrink" her authority.
"Ayala’s argument is that the governor may not remove cases from a state attorney who is ready, willing, and able, and who opposes transfer on account of her constitutional authority," the filing reads.
The document also addresses claims from the April 26 joint filing between Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi that Ayala asked for the state to reassign the case involving Loyd to neighboring State Attorney Brad King.
Ayala argues that she made that request only because she was required to do so under Scott's executive order.
"The answer is that the text of the Scott’s order says that King is assigned Ayala’s duties 'as they relate to the investigation, prosecution, and all matters related to Markeith Loyd,' so she has simply ceded all of Loyd’s remaining cases to King pending a ruling by this court," the document reads.
Scott's legal supporters have suggested that Ayala acted based on personal feelings rather than evidence when she announced her death penalty stance. Ayala said the biggest factor in her decision was the concern for families of murder victims.
The families of Loyd's alleged victims, 24-year-old Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton, filed an amicus brief last Wednesday in support of Scott, asking that they have the opportunity to provide input and insight.
"For that reason alone, survivors must have meaningful, substantive, unbiased input into any state attorney’s sentencing decision, as reflected by various victims’ rights laws. Only 10 percent of family member survivors oppose the death penalty for their loved one’s murderer," the brief reads.
"As any responsible official would do, and as she has previously said, State Attorney Ayala went through an extensive process researching and consulting with various criminal justice experts about Florida's death penalty in early 2017," State Attorney's Office General Counsel Kamilah Perry said.
Death penalty stance leaked before official announcement
Twenty-four hours before Ayala held a news conference in March announcing her office would never seek capital punishment, reporters from several news organizations began contacting her office trying to confirm leaked reports about her intentions, records indicate.
"Trying to handle damage control right now. Victims' families don't know. My office doesn't know," Ayala wrote in a text message around 3 p.m. March 15, records show.
The text message was sent to Miriam Krinsky, a legal adviser to the Fair Punishment Project, an organization that considers the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment.
"I suggest not confirming the rumors until you can release your full statement and frame the announcement," Krinsky replied about 40 minutes later.
Records obtained from the state attorney's office confirm Ayala had begun working on a rough draft of her death penalty speech at least four days prior to the official announcement.
"You can also add that you had been waiting until you could speak with all the families but were forced to announce before they had all been notified," Krinsky wrote in a text message to Ayala.
About 90 minutes later, Faucher sent an email to Ayala's personal Gmail account titled "Suggestions for how to proceed."
Ayala, the Governor, proponents and opponents of capital punishment continue to debate her reassignment and the relevancy of capital punishment.