More than 100 current or former judges, prosecutors, law professors and other legal scholars — including two former Florida Supreme Court chief justices — have signed a letter to Gov. Rick Scott expressing their support Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s right to decide not to pursue death penalty cases and urging the governor to back off.
The signatories include former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court Harry Lee Anstead and Gerald Kogan joined with three dozen current or former judges and prosecutors and approximately 90 law professors.
“We are deeply troubled by your effort to relieve State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala of her constitutional and statutory duties in the Markeith Loyd case. We believe that this effort to remove State Attorney Ayala infringes on the vitally important independence of prosecutors, exceeds your authority, undermines the right of residents in Orange and Osceola counties to the services of their elected leaders, and sets a dangerous precedent,” the letter declares.
On Thursday Ayala, of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, announced her office would not pursue death penalty charges, and that would start with the case of Loyd, charged in the murders of his pregnant former girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton. The political fallout that followed included Scott using an executive order to strip the Loyd case from Ayala and give it to neighboring State Attorney Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit.
Though she initially announced she would cooperate, Ayala herself is now expressing that she thinks the governor overstepped his bounds and that she may seek a way to stay on the case. At a pre-trial hearing for Loyd on Monday, Ayala attended as a lawyer, got up and declared, “I need to be clear: I think the governor overstepped his bounds,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. Although, she is not yet sure whether she’ll step aside, she said, she will not interfere with King, according to The Sentinel.
The judges, prosecutors and law professors agreed with her in their letter to Scott.
“State Attorney Ayala, as the duly elected, constitutional office holder of State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, is so solely empowered to make prosecutorial decisions for her circuit,” the letter states. “Your executive order that seeks to remove State Attorney Ayala from this position in the Loyd case — absent any showing that her decision is violative of the state or federal Constitution — compromises the prosecutorial independence upon which the criminal justice system depends.”
“We believe this action sets a dangerous precedent,” the letter continues. The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice. Indeed, there appears to be no precedent in Flordia for this type of use of power … We urge you to reverse your decision to remove State Attorney Ayala from the Loyd prosecution.”
Florida State University President Emeritus Sandy D’Alemberte; Gill Garcetti, former Los Angeles County district attorney; William Jorden, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association; and former U.S. Attorney Neal Sonnett of the Southern District of Florida; also were among the signatories.
So were law professors from the Barry University School of Law and the Florida A&M University in Orlando; the University of Miami School of Law; University of Florida Levine College of Law; the Florida International University College of Law; and from law schools at Duke, Yale, UCLA, Stanford, Northwestern, University of North Carolina, University of Michigan, Georgetown, Hofstra, Harvard, University of Texas, New York University, Vanderbilt, University of California at Berkeley, and other universities.