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PPP poll finds Orange, Osceola counties prefer life punishment to death sentence

A new poll by Public Policy Polling finds that a strong majority of voters in State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s Orange and Osceola counties prefer some form of life-in-prison sentence for first-degree murderers rather than the death penalty.

The poll, commissioned by the Center for Capital Representation at the Florida International University College of Law, finds results that support Ayala and her controversial position to not pursue death penalties in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola.

PPP did not specifically ask voters in the 9th JC whether they would or could support the death penalty. Rather it asked whether they prefer that punishment or some form of life imprisonment for people convicted of first degree murder.

Thirty-three percent of those surveyed said they preferred a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, with the convict also required to provide some form of restitution to the victim’s family. Another 17 percent said they preferred a straight life in prison without possibility of parole, and another 12 percent said they preferred life in prison with a chance of parole after at least 40 years. That meant 62 percent overall preferred some form of life in prison.

Just 31 percent said they preferred a death penalty for first-degree murderers.

Broken down by party preference, a huge majority of Democrats, 76 percent, and a plurality of Republicans, 49 percent, said they preferred one of the life sentences over the death penalty.

“These results clearly show that Orange and Osceola voters strongly prefer life sentences over the death penalty,” Kenneth B. Nunn, a professor of law at University of Florida’s Levin College of Law., stated in a news release issued PPP. “State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s position on the death penalty is very much in line with the position of her constituents.”

Stephen K. Harper, director of the FIU Center for Capital Representation, said the Orange and Osceola poll results are consistent with what he has seen in statewide polling.

“We run a death penalty project in the law school. One of the things we try to find out is, OK, where is the Florida public on this issue?” Harper said. “Obviously there is a lot of emotion on both sides.”

The PPP survey was conducted April 5-7 of 567 registered voters in Orange and Osceola counties. The pollsters say they have a margin of error of 4.1 percent for the broad-survey questions.

In another question, 52 percent said they thought state attorneys should consider factor such as impact on victims’ families, cost and public safety when deciding whether to pursue the death penalty, and 36 percent did not.

 

Pam Bondi declines to file writ for Armamis Ayala

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is declining to file a challenge supporting Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala against Gov. Rick Scott and may intervene to oppose anything Ayala files.

That sets the stage for Ayala to likely present her challenge early next week, seeking to get a judge to declare that, short of a finding a state attorney violated the law, Scott has no constitutional right to reassign cases from one state attorney to another, as he has done over the past month.

Ayala announced in March that she has concluded the death penalty to be unjust for all, and won’t pursue it in first-degree murder cases. So Scott, who was highly critical of her conclusion, stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her 9th Judicial Circuit and reassigned them to State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

Ayala intends to challenge Scott’s authority to do so, and earlier Friday her lawyer, Roy L. Austin, asked Bondi to initiate that challenge on her behalf. Specifically, they asked her to petition a court for a writ of quo warranto.

Bondi has sided with Scott all along, arguing that what Ayala did violates Florida law, and what Scott did is supported by statute.

And so, writing in response to that formal request to Bondi, Associate Deputy Attorney General Chesterfield Smith Jr. advised Austin late Friday that the attorney general’s office would not do as he asked on Ayala’s behalf.

That is essentially a formality out of the way for Ayala, allowing her and Austin to now pursue the writ without having to go through the attorney general’s office. Earlier Friday Austin said he expects they will do so early next week, seeking

Smith indicated the attorney general is prepared to oppose anything Ayala pursues in court against Scott.

“This office declines to commence such a proceeding and may seek to appear in any such proceeding to ensure that the laws of this State are properly interpreted and faithfully enforced,” Smith wrote.

 

Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy support Syrian missile strikes, seek long-term strategy

Orlando’s two freshmen Democratic U.S. congresswomen both declared their support for President Donald Trump’s missile strikes on Syria Friday yet expressed a yearning for a long-term solution.

U.S. Reps. Val Demings of Orlando and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park made their statements to the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida during a luncheon update on their first three months in Congress.

Beyond Syria, both expressed desires for bipartisan efforts to address health care by considering improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and both disavowed any overt partisan glee or anger regarding health care bills, Friday’s confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But the most sincere bipartisan overture they each made had to do with their mutual horror over the chemical weapons Syrian President Bashar Assad used on his people this week, and their support for Trump’s missile attack on Baashar’s air base Thursday night.

Murphy, a former Defense Department analyst who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, called the attack “singular” and “measured.” Demings, a former Orlando police chief who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, called it “immediate and appropriate.”

“Our national security, the security of our nation, has to be, it must be, our number one concern, and it has to be at the forefront of our minds every day,” Demings said. “We all saw the horrific images in Syria a couple of days ago, of children, women and men who were brutally murdered, led by Assad, a chemical attack against his own people. We all saw the images of the babies.

“I was pleasantly pleased to see the president respond to those images and clearly respond,” Demings said. “I believe the airstrike, 59-missile strike, was immediate and appropriate.”

Murphy noted Tuesday was not the first time Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people.

“The response, the military strike was a singular response,” Murphy said.

But now what, both members of Congress asked?

“Having been in the Department of Defense and knowing how we made decisions and how we plan for these things, what I’d really like to see is broad plan that doesn’t just encompass the military means, but the political end,” Murphy said. “We know as a country based on a lot of conflicts that we found ourselves stumbling into, one airstrike, one deployment of special forces at a time, we’ve found ourselves in places getting further and further drawn in without establishing up front what our political goal is.”

Demings agreed, saying she hopes Secretary Rex Tillerson will lead a diplomatic mission to get allies to work together to address Syria longterm.

“We must have as we go forward a multi-level approach,” she said.

Both members, like all others, are expecting to get called back to session, ruining their two-week break at home, to take another stab at passing a health care bill. Murphy complained that it would be an overhauled bill that members have not had a chance to read and analyze, much less take back to their constituents to talk about, and called it, “an unacceptable way to govern.

Demings said she doesn’t mind going back, but implied that a likely second failed health care bill discussion was not why she thought they should go back.

“I don’t mind going back, because I signed up this,” Demings said. “But if you’re going to call us back, we just dropped 59 missiles on Syria, if you’re going to call us back, let’s have a discussion about calling us back to talk about this multilevel approach for Syria. Where is the phone call for that? Where is the phone call for that.

“If you’re going to be called back, let’s sit down and talk about how we keep our nation safe, and how we deal with a madman, a dictator in Syria,” Demings added.

 

Republican Bobby Olszewski files to run for House District 44 seat

Former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski filed Friday to run for the House of Representatives seat for District 44, covering much of western Orange County.

Olszewski, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, filed for the house seat that will be vacated by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who is not running again.

First, Olszewski rounded up a strong list of supporters, including 30 local elected officials, mostly from western Orange County.

Two other candidates already have filed for that seat, including Republican Usha Jain of Orlando, who also ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, and Democrat Paul Jason Chandler of Orlando, a newcomer as a candidate.

“For me, growing up in Dr. Phillips and the West Orange County area shaped me into the person I am today,” Olszewski stated in a news release. “I went to school here, met my wife here, and we are raising our family here. It is my love for this community that drives me to want to serve our community in Tallahassee.

“From economic development to improving education and healthcare, our state faces many challenges and the way in which we address these issues will have a lasting effect upon West Orange County,” Olszewski continued. “That is why I will put every ounce of energy and passion into serving the people of District 44 and look forward to sharing my vision for Florida with the voters each and every day.”

In announcing his candidacy, Olszewski released a list of supporters who include Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer, Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn, Winter Garden Mayor John Rees, and 26 other city commissioners, school board members and other elected officials from those cities and others in Orange County.

Aramis Ayala asks Pam Bondi to initiate challenge of Rick Scott’s murder case orders

An attorney representing embattled Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala has initiated the process to challenge Gov. Rick Scott‘s murder case reassignment orders by asking State Attorney General Pam Bondi to petition the court on Ayala’s behalf.

Ayala intends to challenge the legality of Scott’s now 23 and counting executive orders stripping 9th Judicial Circuit first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s jurisdiction and reassigning them to be prosecuted by 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

The governor did so after Ayala announced she had concluded that death sentences were unjust for all involved and that she would not pursue them. That angered Scott — and Bondi — leading Scott to reassign all of Ayala’s first-degree murder cases.

Bondi has supported Scott. But in this request, she may have no choice but to comply, as a perfunctory obligation, said Ayala’s attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., of the Washington law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis.

Specifically, the letter asks Bondi to petition a court for a writ quo warranto against Scott and King.

Florida law requires state attorneys to go through the attorney general for such actions, Austin said.

“We have to ask her,” Austin said of Bondi. “But what it’s meant to signal is that Ms. Ayala is definitely going to be responding to the governor, making it clear that his actions were unconstitutional.”

“We’re going to do so next week, early next week,” Austin added.

Austin asked Bondi to notify him no later than 5 p.m. Monday on whether she would file for the writ. “If you do not intend to file such an action, state Attorney Ayala will file a petition for a writ quote warrant soon thereafter,” Austin wrote.

In the letter, he summarized Ayala’s position this way: “As the duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, state Attorney Ayala cannot be forcibly removed as the prosecuting officer for trial courts in the Ninth Judicial Circuit absent a finding that she has violated the law. By unconstitutional and unlawful executive orders issued by Gov. Rick Scott, State Attorney Brad King is wrongfully purporting to exercise the right of state Attorney Ayala to prosecute a number of cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.”

 

Teresa Jacobs: ‘We discovered our culture of compassion’

After going through the usual positive notes on the economy, building activity, law and order, and county finances, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs turned Friday to the heart as she delivered her annual state of the county address.

For all the government service activity high points she presented, it was Orange County’s – Central Florida’s – response to last year’s massacre at Orlando’s popular gay Pulse nightclub that defined the year, and may define her tenure as mayor.

“Through our response to the greatest attack we’ve ever withstood, the greatest loss we’ve ever suffered, we learned something incredible about ourselves,” Jacobs declared. “We know that our culture of collaboration has allowed us to accomplish so much. But we discovered that it is our culture of compassion that makes Orlando such an incredible place to live.”

Jacobs delivered her speech before several hundred people crowded into the lobby of one of Orlando’s newest and most iconic attractions, the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye wheel on International Drive.

While Orlando was discovering its culture of compassion, so too was the world, Jacobs said

“The world watched as we mourned and rallied with the common goal of supporting our LGBTQ and Latinx communities and all of those affected,” she said. “The world watched us respond to the victims’ families, to those with broken heart and to those who survived with broken bodies.

“The world saw our first and second responders at their very best. The world witnessed the extraordinary outpouring of acceptance and love that came naturally, from within the very fabric of our community,” she added. “Through it all, the world gained a much fuller understanding of Orlando.”

And, she said throughout most of the rest of her speech, it is an Orlando and Orange County on the move, with the state’s biggest job growth, and new upgrades to its sports, entertainment, arts, and transportation facilities, among other highlights.

She noted the county’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.2 percent, with more than 127,000 new jobs. She contended that Orlando’s habitually-low wage rates are rising so fast that Forbes Magazine is projecting it 2nd in the nation in wage growth. And she noted the population has increased 15 percent since the recession ended.

“Almost all economic indicators for Central Florida are strong,” Jacobs said. “Two areas in particular, housing and tourism, have shown a remarkable ability to rebound. But the story that these indicators don’t tell is the story that local governments throughout the state have lived. For instance – property tax collections – by far our largest source of revenue fell by 24.8 percent during the recession and just this year  they have returned to their pre-recession levels.”

Not all is great, but Jacobs chose to point to efforts to solve some of the county’s biggest problems, than linger on the problems itself.

Greater Orlando has for years been among the worst cities in the country for pedestrian crashes and deaths. Jacobs addressed it by noting the $1 million spent on pedestrian improvements with many more projects in the works to improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation, including a deal worked out with the University of Central Florida to address issues outside of that sprawling campus in east Orange County.

Orange County has what Jacobs last year described as a heroin epidemic. She said the heroin task force she convened in 2015, led by Sheriff Jerry Demings, has been “working tirelessly” to address it.

The area was recently ranked third-worst in the country for its supply of affordable housing. Jacobs pointed to two new affordable housing projects in the works, in Apopka and East Orange County. “These projects and more – including our transformative community partnership with Wayne Densch, which expands housing for the most at-risk homeless families – will have generational impacts,” she said.

“This has been an unforgettable year for Central Florida, with tremendous highs and heartbreaking lows,” Jacobs concluded. “We have learned that only by choosing to face our future together and with confidence can we build a sustainable future for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.”

Frank Attkisson killed in bicycle-car crash

Former Osceola County chairman, Florida state representative, and Kissimmee Mayor Frank Attkisson was killed Thursday night when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Attkisson, 61, was riding on Kissimmee Park Road near St. Cloud around 6:30 p.m. Thursday when his bike was struck from behind by a car driven by 26-year-old Kristie Jean Knoebel of St. Cloud, according to the patrol. The crash is being investigated.

Attkisson was transported to Osceola Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Republican served a long political career that began on the Kissimmee City Council in the early 1990s and included a stint as Kissimmee mayor from 1996-2000. He served in the House of Representatives from 2000-2008, when he was term limited out.

In 2010 he ran for and won a seat on the Osceola County Commission, and two years later was elected the commission’s chairman. However, he lost re-election in 2014.

Remembrances include that from his former Republican colleague in the House of Representatives, state Sen. Dennis Baxley.

“Frank Attkisson was a great leader, a great Floridian, and a great man, and I am deeply saddened by his death,” Baxley, of Lady Lake, said in a statement his office released. “It was an honor to serve with him in the Florida Legislature. His commitment to public service with the highest standards of integrity should serve as an example to all of us.”

Republican State Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs sent similar thoughts.

“Frank Attkisson was a great public servant whom I deeply respect,” Cortes said in a statement. “His loss is a tragedy not just for his family but for all of us in this community who benefitted from his hard work and leadership over his long career.”

Domestic violence report, lawsuit threats, video complicating Augustus Invictus-Libertarian Party bonds

Update: On Friday morning, about 12 hours after this story was originally posted, the Libertarian Party of Florida Chairman Char-Lez Braden issued the press release Augustus Invictus said he wanted, retracting statements made in a 2015 press release that had accused Invictus of supporting eugenics and state-sponsored murder. The new release indicates the party found Invictus had disavowed eugenics on several occasions prior to the original release, and that “state-sponsored murder” is ambiguous. The full text of the LPF press release is added to the bottom of this story.

Faced with new allegations of domestic abuse including sexual battery, Libertarian Party lightning rod and avowed ultranationalist Augustus Sol Invictus has been both lashing out at his “enemies” for what he calls slander and pursuing a deal he says will heal his reputation and his relationship with the party.

Invictus, who ran as a candidate for the Libertarian Party of Florida’s U.S. Senate nomination but lost in the primary, was accused in a March 21 report filed with the Edgewood Police Department by an unidentified woman. She said that during their 15-month relationship that ended early this year he repeatedly verbally, physically and sexually assaulted her, and even held a gun to her and threatened to kill her.

The allegations come at a time when Invictus is almost simultaneously trying to repair both his reputation and his relationship with the party, and launching a self-described war against his enemies, including against some in the party he says are out to destroy him, with an anger-filled video he posted on Facebook.

The police report allegations include her description of a March, 2016, incident in which she alleged, “Mr. Invictus got angry, beat her until her eyes were shut, dragged her into the closet and put a gun to her head, asking her why he shouldn’t just kill her … A similar incident happened again in January/February 2017 where he dragged her into the closet and put a gun to her head, beat her and attempted to suffocate her. This went on for several hours. explained that he then proceeded to sexually assault her.”

Of the unidentified woman who filed the report, police redacted her name and other information from released copies.

“The police report is 100 percent false,” Invictus replied to FloridaPolitics.com.

Invictus insisted the woman — as well as another woman he would not name — were part of a conspiracy that included at least a couple of people within the Libertarian Party of Florida. This included the man who defeated him in the August U.S. Senate primary, Paul Stanton, and the party’s former state chairman, Adrian Wyllie.

In the video posted on Facebook, Invictus threatened to sue for slander.

No charges were pursued against Invictus as a result of the police report because the incidents allegedly occurred in another jurisdiction — Altamonte Springs. Edgewood police urged the complainant to seek an injunction against Invictus and to re-report the allegations to the Altamonte Springs police. A recent check of Orange County Clerk of Court records and the Altamonte Springs Police Department indicate she had not done either yet.

Libertarian Party leaders declined to talk to FloridaPolitics.com about Invictus, the police report, or discussions with him, except to note they are in mutually-agreed-upon mediation regarding complaints and demands he has made to the party.

Stanton and Wyllie each denied any conspiracy and said they do not know the woman who filed the report. Both dismissed his claims, though both acknowledged they are unhappy that he is still in the party, or that anyone pays attention to him.

“It’s typical of the kind of lunacy he comes up with,” said Wyllie, who resigned as LPF chairman last year over Invictus’ standing and candidacy.

“It’s ridiculous,” Stanton said. “He’s just making fantastical, bizarre claims, just like he did in the primary, just like he always does. I think a lot of us are getting tired of it.”

Invictus is the Orlando-area lawyer who made his fame by defending neo-Nazis in criminal court cases. Then, as he ran for the U.S. Senate, publicized his penchant for behaviors like drinking goat blood or writing journals while on LSD.

Since then he’s charged that opponents — he blames anti-fascist groups called “Antifa” — have been threatening him, disrupting or preventing his rallies and appearances, and resorting to violence on some occasions. He also claims his family is being targeted. He has young children. And he claimed police are harassing him too, saying he was pulled over and harassed by deputy sheriffs in South Carolina this week for no reason.

He blames a news release the party issued in 2015 disavowing some of his political and philosophical positions. That release, he charges, falsely accused him of believing in eugenics and state-sponsored murder, and helped spread a false allegation that he is a white supremacist.

He has been demanding the party publicly retract those statements, and last week filed notice that he intended to sue the party for defamation. That led to the offer of mediation.

He told FloridaPolitics.com the mediation is over, and that the party has agreed to his demands, with just legal details to be worked out. He said he’s expecting the party to issue a news release soon, retracting things it said about him in the 2015 news release. And he believes that will solve some of his problems.

“We’re all very motivated moving forward to having this resolved so we can move on with our lives,” he said. “I expect it is going to clear my name in a big way. Of course, it won’t solve all my problems, but a correction of the original false allegations are going to clear my name in a big way.”

He said he is expecting total vindication, and that it would be an embarrassment to Stanton, who he said was the only key LPF official still opposing him.

Stanton, who is on the LPF executive committee, said whatever the party does, it does not mean that most of its members don’t dislike Invictus.

“Unfortunately, there is a small segment in the party that does support him. It is very troubling. However, the vast majority of the Libertarian Party both in Florida and outside Florida finds him to be appalling, to say the least,” he said.

Stanton said the police report reinforces his worst concern.

“Augustus Invictus advocates violence toward and subjugation of vulnerable people,” Stanton said, noting that’s what the police report says he did to the woman. “That is entirely antithetic to the Libertarian message of peace and nonaggression.”

In the Facebook video posted last week, Invictus vowed vengeance and made references to violence. However, in talking to FloridaPolitics.com, he downplayed those references as largely metaphorical about hardball politics.

He also said the vengeance he promised against the Libertarian Party of Florida would be waived when the news release he wants is issued.

In the video, he announced his “William Tecumseh Sherman” scorched-earth campaign against his enemies.

“The Antifa, the crooked cops, the Libertarian Party, the slanderers, the traitors, they all are finding out as we speak that my patience has run dry. I am setting fire to every goddamn thing in my path,” he declared in the video.

“Nothing will satisfy my anger now.”

Charging that they have involved his family, he warned: “I will involve your families. I will attack your reputations. I will authorize my people to attack your events. I will let my people know where you live.”

On Friday morning the Libertarian Party of Florida Chairman

The Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) has conducted a review of a press release regarding Augustus Sol Invictus that was published on October 5th, 2015, and has concluded that it exceeded the mandate of the executive committee as discussed in its monthly meeting on October 4th, 2015.

The LPF, in accordance, has withdrawn this press release. Further, two items regarding “eugenics” and “state-sponsored murder” are mentioned in the press release. For example, “unwillingness to reject eugenics”, “call for eugenics”, and so forth.

Upon review of current information, the LPF concluded that Mr. Invictus, has on at least one occasion before the press release and several times after, disavowed government eugenics programs. And the item of “state-sponsored murder” is ambiguous.

Finally, the LPF would like to note that Mr. Invictus has always been a member in good standing, is a past Chair of the Libertarian Party of Orange County, a sponsor of the 2016 and 2017 LPF State Conventions, as well as a dedicated volunteer on the Legislative Review Committee.

uthorize my people to attack your events. I will let my people know where you live.”

On Friday morning the Libertarian Party of Florida released the following statement to the press:

The Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) has conducted a review of a press release regarding Augustus Sol Invictus that was published on October 5th, 2015, and has concluded that it exceeded the mandate of the executive committee as discussed in its monthly meeting on October 4th, 2015.

The LPF, in accordance, has withdrawn this press release. Further, two items regarding “eugenics” and “state-sponsored murder” are mentioned in the press release. For example, “unwillingness to reject eugenics”, “call for eugenics”, and so forth.

Upon review of current information, the LPF concluded that Mr. Invictus, has on at least one occasion before the press release and several times after, disavowed government eugenics programs. And the item of “state-sponsored murder” is ambiguous.

Finally, the LPF would like to note that Mr. Invictus has always been a member in good standing, is a past Chair of the Libertarian Party of Orange County, a sponsor of the 2016 and 2017 LPF State Conventions, as well as a dedicated volunteer on the Legislative Review Committee.

Legal debate over Aramis Ayala’s decision turns into hockey game

You get a former prosecutor, a retired judge and a defense attorney together to talk about legal issues underpinning Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s decision to not pursue death penalty prosecutions, and you might expect lively disagreement.

But a brawl?

A debate in Orlando Wednesday between former 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton and retired 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. broke down into near chaos at times, with shouted interruptions leading to political accusations, a few insults, a bit of belittling, sarcasm and condescension, and angry protests of unfairness.

And most of that wasn’t between the prosecutor and the judge who were officially squaring off, but between Ashton and the debate moderator, Orlando defense attorney Mark O’Mara.

“I hoped this discussion would not become political but it almost immediately did,” said an exasperated-sounding Ashton, who lost the JC9 seat to Ayala in a nasty election battle last year, and then took the positions opposing her decision. “I hoped that somebody would show me a case or an interpretation or a rule or a statutory construction.

“But all I’ve heard is you two yelling at me that I’m wrong!”

“I haven’t yelled at you at all. I’m very soft spoken,” corrected Eaton, quipping about his reputation on the bench.

The debate, held in front of a crowd mostly of lawyers and sponsored by The Ramsey Law Firm, the Law Firm of Jennifer J. Jacobs and a couple of others, illustrated the levels of passion and politics emerging in Orlando from what Ayala has done, and what Gov. Rick Scott has done as a result, stripping her of 22 murder cases.

The combatants Wednesday did agree on one thing, that the ramifications of Ayala’s and Scott’s actions could be far-reaching for Florida criminal justice.

“What is going to happen, I hope, is that Ms. Ayala is going to challenge this and we’re going to get a ruling, and the issue is going to be very clear: does the prosecutor’s discretion trump the governor’s right to disagree with it,” said Eaton, described by the Orlando Sentinel as a “death-penalty expert judge” when he retired in 2010.

“And I agree on both counts,” Ashton replied. “I hope that it goes to the Florida Supreme Court, because this is an issue that could fundamentally change the concept of what a prosecutor is, in the state of Florida.”

And there were other times, especially early on, when the debate flowed smoothly.

Ashton’s chief argument centered on Florida Statute 782.04(1)(b), which states that, in all first-degree murder cases, “the procedure set forth in Statute 921.141 shall be followed in order to determine sentence of death or life imprisonment.” Shall, Ashton said, is a command, not a suggestion. Ayala, he said, did not follow the procedure in 921.141, which essentially is the procedure to determine if there are aggravating circumstances that could lead to a death penalty. She just decided in advance, for all cases, there would be no death penalty.

Eaton argued that prosecutorial discretion, which Ayala claimed in deciding against death penalties, is an absolute concept that dates to English common law, and he cited a number of cases where courts have upheld that discretion.

“If she had said, ‘I’m not going to use the death penalty,’ and gave no reason for her decision, that decision could not be reviewed by any court, and it is not reviewable by the governor, I don’t think,” Eaton said.

He added that he believes the consequences a governor’s action to overrule prosecutorial discretion, as Scott has done, are very serious, because they could send the message to all of Florida’s prosecutors that anytime they use their prosecutorial discretion in a murder case, he might intervene if he doesn’t like the choice.

In short, state attorneys might become politically intimidated by the governor, he said, and very nervous about not pursuing death penalties.

Ashton contested that, and said he wanted to know who could speak up for victims if prosecutors go their own way.

“When the prosecutor decides to break or ignore the law to the benefit of the defendant, how is it reviewed?” Ashton demanded. “Who do you go to? If you are aggrieved victim who believes the state attorney is ignoring the law, who do you go to?”

Bob Cortes, others renew call for Aramis Ayala’s removal

Repeatedly saying that his concern is with her blanket statement to decline death penalty prosecutions, state Rep. Bob Cortes renewed his call Tuesday for the resignation or suspension of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Cortes is emerging as one of Ayala’s sternest critics after the state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit announced last month that she had concluded the death penalty is not just for anyone and would not pursue it.

That’s resulted in Gov. Rick Scott stripping 22 murder cases from her office and reassigning them, a move Cortes applauded Tuesday in a press conference at the Florida Capital.

But Cortes and state Rep. Scott Plakon, both of Altamonte Springs, made it clear they believe Ayala is derelict in her duties because her blanket statement means she will not review each case individually, as they believe she must.

The dispute with critics such as Cortes and Scott resides on the interpretation of a state attorney’s right and responsibility to exercise prosecutorial discretion.

Ayala and her supporters, who includes a group of lawyers, retired judges, retired Florida Supreme Court justices and law professors who signed a letter supporting her, and who, at last count, numbered more than 160, argue that prosecutorial discretion gives her the power to do what she has done.

Cortez and others counter that the prosecutorial discretion must be applied case-by-case.

“If she would not have made the statement that she was not seeking the death penalty, I think none of us would be up here, to be honest with you,” Cortes said.

“If she used each individual case, and [made decisions to not pursue the death penalty] based on the merit and aggravated circumstances, yeah, we would be a little critical,” he continued. “But I don’t think we’d be calling for her removal, because that’s within her purview. She made a statement that she cannot retract, that said, ‘I will not seek any death penalty cases here now or in the future.’ That’s where I’m coming from.”

For the third time in a month, Cortes said he has asked Scott to suspend her from office.

“Article 4, Section 7, of the Florida Constitution says the governor may suspend based on neglect of duty,” he said. “By not reviewing each case based on aggravating circumstances, I believe this is a neglect of duty and she must either resign or the governor must suspend her and appoint someone in her place.”

Cortes and Plakon also were joined Tuesday by two other members of Central Florida’s Republican House delegation, Mike Miller of Winter Park, and Rene Plasencia of Orlando, while Jennifer Sullivan sent her support for them but could not attend.

However, only Cortes and Plakon spoke up, with Plakon adding criticism that his proposed $1.3 million budget cut for Ayala’s office should not hurt prosecution in Orange and Osceola counties because her office has so many vacancies.

“In recent days the state attorney… has been in various media outlets talking about the ‘parade of horribles’ that may happen if the 21 positions and $1.3 million is cut from the budget,” Plakon said.

Plakon cited state data that says her office currently has 60 openings out of 386.5 positions. Ayala’s office told FloridaPolitics.com that it has 33 vacancies, with five more employees coming on line soon.

“Thirty-three is still greater than 21. So all of the statements she’s made about the harm coming and so on, these are vacant positions she’s talking about,” Plakon said.

 

 

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