Orlando’s reform-pledging yet controversial State Attorney Aramis Ayala defended her anti-death penalty position as “evidence based” and charged that the Florida Legislature’s $1.3 million cut to her budget will hamper anti-human trafficking and domestic violence prosecutions.
In a feature published Thursday morning by Orlando-Rising.com, a sister website to FloridaPolitics.com, the rookie state attorney representing Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit also reiterated her earlier statements that she has had nothing to do with Democratic political rainmaker George Soros, who ran an independent campaign on her behalf last summer; and that she believes Gov. Rick Scott reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases from her “solely based on his own political beliefs.”
“I know the ‘death penalty’ is extremely controversial and evokes emotion from both people who are for and against it. As I stated on steps of Orange County Courthouse when I made my announcement, what is NOT controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision,” Ayala stated in a written interview with Orlando-Rising.com, part of the ongoing “OR Conversations” weekly feature, highlighting the thoughts and views of newsmakers.
The feature, which involved Ayala providing written responses to written questions, marks the most comprehensive public statements Ayala has made since her March 16 announcement that she had decided that Florida’s capital punishment laws are unjust to all, and she would not pursue them. That announcement had led to a firestorm of political, social, legislative, and legal responses, some of which she told Orlando-Rising.com she anticipated, and some of which she did not.
“What I did not anticipate is the governor overstepping his authority by inserting himself in a prosecutorial decision and removing 23 cases from my office,” Ayala stated. “I believe what Gov. Scott has done is an attack on the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers and our criminal justice system. Scott’s move is unprecedented and solely based on his own political beliefs.”
She and the governor are locked in litigation battles, in the Florida Supreme Court, and in U.S. District Court, over her decision to not seek death penalties, and his subsequent decision to reassign her first-degree murder cases to other state attorneys.
“I did not anticipate the Legislature cutting my office budget $1.3 million dollars and eliminating 21 positions from my office. This move will severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community.
“I also did not anticipate racist responses including someone sending a noose to my office because they disagree with how my administration will handle death penalty cases,” added Ayala, the first African American known to be elected to the position of state attorney anywhere in Florida, in history.
Ayala went into great detail on how she fears the $1.3 million cut in her 2018 budget could affect her office’s ability to prosecute human trafficking and domestic violence cases, two special programs she campaigned for, the first of which had received a special $1.4 million appropriation in 2017. Her response essentially included position statements she provided the Florida Legislature. For the sake of their newsworthiness, Orlando-Rising.com decided to publish them in their entirety, even though they went beyond the normal bounds of brevity the OR Conversations feature requests of its newsmaker subjects.
The Florida Legislature had argued that the $1.3 million should and will follow the reassigned first-degree murder cases to the receiving state attorney, which, in the case of the currently-reassigned 23 cases, is Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. But Ayala challenged that logic, arguing that money already automatically follows reassigned cases, so that what the legislature did was essentially charge her for those cases twice.
“My office will also be footing the bill for every single case Scott removed from this office,” she stated. “Florida Statute 27.15 requires all expenses and costs incurred by any gubernatorial re-assignment to be paid for by the circuit receiving the assistance. As such, the 9th Circuit will pay any and all costs and expenses as required by law from its existing budget appropriation.
“The impact of cutting $1.3 million and eliminating 21 positions will have a devastating effect on existing efforts to prosecute widespread human trafficking and domestic violence offenders in this circuit,” she added.
As for Soros’ help during her campaign, Ayala said she appreciated his involvement but that she had nothing to do with him. The New York-based liberal crusader set up an independent campaign fund that spent nearly $1.4 million in the last four weeks of the state attorney’s office primary election campaign, buying TV commercials and mailers blitzing her opponent, then-incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton. The money Soros’ spent on that race through his Florida Safety & Justice political action committee was eight times as much as Ayala’s and Ashton’s official campaigns spent combined.
“I understand that Mr. Soros invested in around a dozen prosecutor campaigns across the country, both Republicans and Democrats as supporters and opponents to the death penalty,” she told Orlando-Rising.com. “He supported candidates like myself who were committed to bringing change and reform to prosecution. My values and goals were very clear before Mr. Soros ever supported my campaign. I appreciate the support he gave, but I never solicited it nor did it change my platform.”