Rick Scott, Pam Bondi hit back at Aramis Ayala in lawsuit

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PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Gov. Rick Scott hit back at Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala in court this week, saying he did not violate Florida's constitution when he removed Ayala from 23 murder cases after she said she wouldn't pursue the death penalty during her term.

The response, filed by Attorney General Pam Bondi in the Florida Supreme Court, says that despite Ayala's claims that the governor does not have the authority to remove her from cases, she did ask him to re-assign another prosecutor to a case on six occasions.

"The Governor’s orders have the purpose and effect of ensuring rather
than impeding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion," the brief says. "Her decision ultimately reflects her personal beliefs rather than the law of this State, appropriately applied on a case-by-case basis."

Bondi and Scott say in their response that the "extraordinary constitutional authority" Ayala asserts would not only apply to death-penalty cases, but also to other crimes that prosecutors don't agree with.

"Some locally elected prosecutors may commit to always pursuing certain charges (like particular drug possession charges) or severe sentencing enhancements (such as mandatory minimum sentences) whenever possible and regardless of circumstances," the response says. "In those cases, as here, the chief executive’s venerable and modest reassignment authority – an authority regulated by statute and subject to judicial review – can serve as a useful check on the exercise of prosecutorial power."

Scott removed Ayala from 23 cases after she announced she wouldn't pursue the death penalty for murder suspect Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. The governor is being supported in the lawsuit filed in state court by the Republican-led Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other victims' families. Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed cutting the budget for Ayala's office.

On her end, Ayala has said Scott doesn't have the authority to reassign the capital cases because prosecutors can choose to seek the death penalty. Ayala is being supported in court by Democratic lawmakers, former prosecutors and Florida Supreme Court justices, social justice organizations and homicide victims' families.

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