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Aramis Ayala loses judge’s ruling but pushes forward to challenge case reassignment

After losing a judge’s ruling Tuesday on her request to remain the prosecutor for the murder trial of of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala vowed Tuesday to continue fighting for her right to represent the state in that case.

Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Frederick Lauten ruled Tuesday that the state attorney from Ocala, Brad King, would represent the state, in the case of Loyd, charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Afterwards, Ayala indicated she would challenge the executive order made by Gov. Rick Scott, stripping the Loyd case from Ayala and assigning it to King, after Ayala had declared she would not pursue the death penalty in that or any other case in her Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties. To do so, she intends to seek a writ of quo warranto, forcing Scott to show what authority he used to reassign the case.

“By inserting his personal politics into this case, Governor Scott’s unprecedented action is dangerous and could compromise the prosecution of Markeith Loyd and threatens the integrity of Florida’s judicial system. As the judge found today, what has been done is unheard of,” Ayala said in a written statement. “We will move forward to expose the governor’s action as unlawful and unconstitutional in a way that does not compromise the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd.”

On Tuesday, Ayala appeared in court with Roy Austin, a former federal prosecutor and former legal official in President Barack Obama’s administration, the Sentinel reported.

In related news, Ayala received the backing of the Orange County Young Democrats, whose board voted unanimously to support her prosecutorial discretion to decide to not use the death penalty. That group issued a statement consistent with earlier statements issued by the Orange County Democratic Party Executive Committee, the Orange Democratic Black Caucus, the Florida Democratic Black Caucus, and the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus.

“Gov. Scott, who has signed more death warrants than any Governor since 1976, has no legitimate reason to remove or suspend State Attorney Ayala from any capitol case and is punishing her for her decision not to seek the death penalty. The decision to seek the death penalty remains solely within the discretion of the State Attorney and her office. Florida law only requires that she gives notice of her intention to seek the death penalty, or not, and State Attorney Ayala has satisfied her legal duties at every step of the way,” the Orange Young Dems declared in their statement. “Governor Rick Scott is conflating death with justice and he is acting on political motives. In choosing to not seek the death penalty, State Attorney Ayala is acting fully within her power and the Orange County Young Democrats stand united in support of her. We demand that Gov. Scott reinstate Aramis Ayala immediately so that she can resume her duties and vital work within the Orange County community.”

Bill Nelson to vote no on Neil Gorsuch

Bill Nelson ended any suspense there may have been regarding his views of President Donald Trump‘s first Supreme Court nominee.

Florida’s Democratic senator intends to vote no on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

Nelson also announced Monday he also would support a Democratic filibuster, by voting against likely Republican efforts to invoke cloture to prevent a filibuster. If a Republican-led closure procedure wins, Nelson said he will vote no on Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Nelson cited Gorsuch’s own testimony and record, making no references to Democrats’ beef that Republicans refused all last year to hold hearings on the nomination of then-President Barack Obama‘s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland‎. Gorsuch now is up for that same seat.

“Deciding whether to confirm a president’s nominee for the highest court in the land is a responsibility I take very seriously,” Nelson stated in a news release issued Monday afternoon by his office. “Over the past few weeks, I have met with Judge Gorsuch, listened to the Judiciary Committee’s hearings and reviewed his record with an open mind.

“I have real concerns with his thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees, as in the case of a freezing truck driver who, contrary to common sense, Judge Gorsuch would have allowed to be fired for abandoning his disabled rig during extreme weather conditions,” Nelson added.

 

Veterans group’s mailers target Bill Nelson in Neil Gorsuch vote

Florida voters can expect to receive mailers from a veterans group with Republican ties urging them to urge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice.

The group Veterans Concerned for America, run by a former GOP state finance chairman, is making a second round of mailings to Florida voters targeting Nelson. Similar efforts are underway in other states with Democratic senators.

The mailers ask: “Will Senator Bill Nelson  protect the freedoms you fought to defend?” and then urges voters to call his office.

“This week Judge Neil Gorsuch has continued to demonstrate the kind of integrity, independence, and neutrality before the law that he will bring to the Supreme Court bench if he is confirmed,” CVA) Florida Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri stated in a news release. “Gorsuch’s dedication to protecting the Constitution has garnered the respect of political leaders on both sides of the aisle and Floridians of all walks of life who are stepping out every day in his support.

“Since Gorsuch was announced as our next Supreme Court nominee, CVA has been mobilizing our grassroots army in this fight – and we will continue doing so until the moment that the Senate has confirmed Gorsuch to the bench,” Echeverri continued. “We urge Senator Nelson to avoid political theatre this week and to help drive a quick, clean, and thorough hearing process.”

 

Orange County Democratic Party unanimously backs Aramis Ayala

The Orange County Democratic Party announced late Tuesday its executive committee has unanimously backed Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s decision to not pursue the death penalty in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit.

Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said more than 200 people attended the Monday night meeting at which the committee passed two resolutions; one supporting Ayala’s prosecutorial discretion and urging Gov. Rick Scott to rescind his executive order stripping her of the Markeith Loyd case; and one condemning comments from a Seminole County Clerk of Courts official who called for her to be hung from a tree, and calling for his firing.

Hodge said there was considerable discussion but no objections to the resolutions.

The Orange Democrats took the positions following two other developments from Democratic groups supporting Ayala, a Democrat. Earlier Monday the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus also approved a resolution supporting her, and earlier the Orange County Black Democratic Caucus announced its support.

“When she held her press conference [last Thursday] she was very deliberate in making her case in supporting her beliefs, and why she didn’t think the death penalty was an effective deterrent. That’s what you would expect from a well-seasoned attorney,” Hodge said. “Personally, I do agree that it has been proven that the death penalty is not a deterrent.”

The party’s resolution, however, offers support explicitly for her and her authority to decide what to do with death penalty cases, and does not render any explicit opposition to or support for death penalties. The party is split on that, with Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings supporting the death penalty, as is state Sen. Victor Torres, a retired police detective.

Yet the Orange Democrats’ call has not reached the pitch of opponents and critics of Ayala, principally Republicans, from Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi, to numerous lawmakers including Central Florida state Reps. Bob Cortes, who called for her removal; Scott Plakon, who is looking at funding for her office; and Mike Miller and Rene Plasencia, who, with Cortes, called a press conference to condemn her.

Hodge expressed frustration that Ayala is being portrayed as someone accepting of crime including the murders  charged to Loyd, which he called reprehensible, when she, in his view, is being realistic about seeking the surest and shortest route to justice.

All three Democratic groups called for Scott to lay off.

“We view this as a politically-motivated action gearing up for his next election,” Hodge said in a statement that echoed that of the progressive caucus. “His executive order infringes on the independence of state’s attorneys, exceeds his authority as governor, establishes a dangerous precedent, and undermines the will of the voters of Orange and Osceola counties.”

Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida backs Aramis Ayala

Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala has gotten her first significant backing from within her own party, with a resolution supporting her and her actions from the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

The group announced Tuesday it has passed a resolution expressing “its support for Aramis Ayala’s right to exercise her prosecutorial discretion when deciding whether or not to pursue the death penalty in any case, and calls upon Governor Rick Scott to immediately rescind his Executive Order removing Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Lloyd case.”

The resolution, which was adopted over the weekend but not disclosed until Tuesday, declares that Scott’s executive order last week stripping the Loyd murder case from Ayala and reassigning it to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King was a “cynical and politically-motivated action, which infringes on the independence of prosecutors, exceeds his authority, sets a dangerous precedent; and undermines the right of the residents of Orange and Osceola counties to elect their own prosecutor.”

Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, announced last Thursday she would not pursue death penalty charges against anyone in the circuit, preferring to seek life imprisonment without parole, and arguing that death penalty cases’ tendencies to drag on for decades were unjust for all, including families of victims. Scott swiftly responded by reassigning the case of Loyd, charged with murdering his pregnant former girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton.

Ayala, a Democrat, has drawn strong, often angry responses from other politicians besides Scott, including several Central Florida lawmakers. On Monday Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes called for Scott to suspend her from office, and from Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres, a retired police detective, who supported Scott’s reassignment of the Loyd case. Few other Democrats have spoken up until now.

“State’s Attorney Ayala was duly elected by the citizens of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. She must be allowed to use her discretion in cases without interference from the governor. Rick Scott is overstepping his authority.” Democratic Progressive Caucus President Susan Smith stated in a news release announcing the group’s resolution.

Victor Torres seeks to save call-center jobs

State Sen. Victor Torres has introduced a bill to force call center operators to give extended notices if they intend to shut down or move call-center jobs out of state or overseas.

The Orlando Democrat filed Senate Bill 1632 to require call centers that reduce their staffs by more than 30 days relocate outside of Florida to give notice to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance.

It also requires the department to establish an inventory list of call centers and numbers of employees, and create financial penalties for companies not in compliance with notification requirements. The bill also would bar non-compliant companies from obtaining certain state grants, loans, or tax benefits for five years.

Torres’ bill is a companion to House Bill 815, which state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat, filed last month. They have dubbed the bills the ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017.’

Both Miami and Orlando have numerous call centers, and a press release issued by Senate Democrats said nearly 350,000 Floridians are currently employed in customer service and support call center jobs today in the Sunshine State. The release also states that those jobs are draining away, as companies outsource to states or countries with cheaper labor.

“Off shoring and out-sourcing of jobs may be good for the corporate bottom line but it has tragic consequences for the working men and women of Florida,” Torres stated in the release.

Under federal law, large employers already are required to submit 60-day “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification” notices to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for large layoffs or closings.

Asencio said there is a cyber security issue involved in job center relocations.

“Call center workers often handle sensitive financial, health care and personal information that Floridians have a right to know is secure and protected,” he stated in the release. “When that interaction involves state business, it is only proper that their tax dollars are being used to support a secure and professional call center here in Florida. Not only is this about the good jobs that call centers support in communities across the state, it is about ensuring that we are at the forefront of data security.”

This bill will require existing call centers planning to relocate outside of Florida, or reducing their staff by more than 30 percent, to notify the Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance of any relocation or downsizing. It also authorizes DBPR to establish an inventory list of call centers and number of employees and create a financial penalty for companies not in compliance with the notification requirements. Once on the non-compliance list, the bill would also bar these companies from certain state grants, loans and tax benefits for five years.

The AFL-CIO has expressed support.

“We thank the sponsors of the new legislation for their leadership and for recognizing that taxpayer money should go to strengthen Florida’s economy. It shouldn’t be used to ship jobs overseas,” Don Abicht, President of CWA Local 3122, which represents Florida’s communication workers said. “The ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017’ is an important bill that would help American workers, protect American communities, and benefit American consumers’ safety.”

Barbara Petersen: Exempting ‘death videos’ could have hidden Martin Anderson case

Two new bills to re-broaden bans on the public release of death videos could prevent evidence of a case such as Martin Lee Anderson‘s from ever coming to light, and could also prevent disclosures in controversial police shooting cases, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said Monday.

Petersen is raising anew concerns she raised earlier for Senate Bill 968, introduced in February by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy, with more urgency, now that Democratic state Rep. Kamia Brown of Orlando has introduced a companion bill in the house. Bracy is from the west Orange County town of Oakland, and Brown from neighboring Ocoee.

Senate Bill 968 and House Bill 1115 would expand Florida’s open records exemptions, which currently ban the release of photographs, videos and audio recordings of the deaths of law enforcement officers, to also ban the release of such recordings for any deaths of Florida residents.

In a news release issued Monday by the Florida House Democrats’ office, Brown expressed sympathy for grieving families and the horrors they might experience seeing their loved-ones’ deaths depicted in the media.

“No family member or friend of a victim of a crime should be forced to endure the pain of having their loved one’s death broadcast to the world,” Brown stated.

But Petersen argued that such videos, photographs and audio recordings take on potentially important justice implications when they expose false reports by authorities about victims’ deaths.

Her primary example is that of Martin, the 14-year-old who died in 2006 in one of Florida’s now-shut-down, notorious juvenile boot camps. Martin died during an exercise regimen at the Bay County Boot Camp, run by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. The medical examiner’s first official report indicated he died of sickle-cell trait disorder. But a surveillance camera video emerged showing guards verbally and physically harassing an exhausted Martin into continuing a run until he dropped and died. A follow-up medical examiner’s report found he died of asphyxiation.

The resulting publicity contributed to the reform movement that closed the camps.

Bracy’s office said they had not been made aware of the potential impact on matters such as Martin’s case, and would explore it and respond. Brown’s office said they would explore the issue and respond.

SB 968 was referred to three committees, including the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Bracy chairs. HB 1115 also was referred to three committees, including the House Subcommittee for Criminal Justice.

Petersen said she’s also concerned the bills would ban release of videos from police body cameras, dash cams, or other surveillance cameras that might depict what happened in cases where law enforcement officers kill someone, particularly those that become controversial. She noted the North Charleston, S.C., case in which a white officer fatally shot Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, as he ran away. The two bills could shield such a video from ever being released, she said.

“The breadth of this [proposed] exemption is huge,” she said.

It’s also not new. Florida passed a similar law six years ago but it sun-setted last year, replaced with a new law that only covered recordings of law enforcement officers’ deaths.

For ‘Dem-witted’ Florida Democrats, stop arguing and get to work

In case Democrats haven’t figured it out yet, they are in a position of increasing irrelevance for a couple of big reasons: They consistently have been outworked, and they apparently can’t understand what’s actually happening in Florida and this country.

The election of Donald Trump is just the latest in what has been a series of events that left Democrats dazed and confused (apologies to Led Zeppelin). I was reminded of that Saturday when an enthusiastic and large crowd (yes, Mr. President, it was large) turned out in Melbourne to hear President Trump rail against his favorite targets — chief among them, the media.

Democrats will point to opinion polls that show the president at historic lows after one month in office. Many of them will assume that means Trump’s administration is headed for a thrashing in the 2018 midterms, ultimately to crash on the rocks in 2020 — if he isn’t impeached before then.

They may be right, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. The disconnect between everyday people and the so-called powerful elite has been widening for a while now. It shows no signs of easing. If anything, the gap is increasing. News flash: The everyday people are winning.

Go back to the 2010 governor’s election in Florida. How many experts gave Rick Scott any chance of winning? After he beat Alex Sink, Democrats disdainfully wrote it off an anomaly that would self-correct.

They argued that Scott had essentially bought the election by pouring millions from his own bank account into the campaign. They grumped that Sink had run a lackluster campaign. And when Scott was later judged to be the least popular governor in the nation, Democrats assumed they would regain power in 2014.

How did that work out?

Take it even closer to home. There was a story Friday on SaintPetersBlog from Mitch Perry about a transportation forum in Tampa. People listened as Sharon Calvert, Tom Rask and Barb Haselden — three local activists who resist labels but sound a lot like Tea Party folks — gave their views on public transportation.

It’s fair to say they oppose big government transportation projects they see as outdated money-losers, and they appear to be quite proud of their roles in scuttling local tax referendums for transportation in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

I have frequently dealt with Sharon Calvert, and while I don’t agree with many of her viewpoints, I respect her and her colleagues for their persistence and willingness to engage. And boy, do they engage.

They attend mind-numbing planning meetings and challenge officials to prove the things they say. They go over news articles and columns word by word to argue points that may seem arcane, but really aren’t. They are relentless on the details.

And here’s the biggest thing: they are convincing. Not to me necessarily and certainly not to many public officials, but they get their word out to the people and convince them to vote. They are the definition of grass roots.

That’s how Trump won, too. I remember driving by the Florida State Fairgrounds late one night shortly before November’s election. The place was packed with people coming to hear Donald Trump, a man who supposedly was lagging hopelessly behind in the polls at that point.

There were scenes like that playing out all over the country. Democrats dismissed it as a bunch of misguided yahoos and didn’t see the sucker punch coming until it knocked them to the floor.

So here’s the deal they better learn. They better stop being so Dem-witted about how election “shockers” like Trump and Rick Scott happen. They need to realize how much ground they need to make up with voters who have tuned them out.

They need to look at crowds like the one President Trump just had in Melbourne and see that for it is: reality. And then, as two-term Gov. Scott might say, get to work.

 

Darren Soto willing to work with GOP on health care, but not on this plan

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto declared Friday that he’s willing to work with Republicans on an appropriate replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act but completely dismissed the GOP’s current proposal as no where near acceptable.

Soto, representing Florida’s Orlando-Kissimmee based 9th Congressional District,  is participating in the House of Representatives Democrats’ “National Day of Action” trying to build a grassroots opposition to Republicans plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. Soto is holding a town hall meeting in Kissimmee Saturday. On Friday he participated in a telephone press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and four other Democrats.

In that call, Soto declared that the ACA has been “a smashing success” in Florida but if Republicans are going to repeal and replace he offers his service to help build an acceptable replacement plan.

“If Republicans have an alternative, show us your plan. We’re happy to work with you,” Soto said. “If not, work with us to improve the act rather than to eliminate it. We can work together on the premiums and more participation by citizens and by insurers. But a repeal without a replace would be a disaster.”

On Thursday Republicans circulated the outlines of such a plan. Soto, Pelosi and other Democrats on the conference call all declared it to be woefully inadequate to merit any support.

“This is just more of a doubling down of the extremism we’ve seen. They have not been responsive,” Soto said.

Pelosi said the plan circulating in Congress is nothing more of an outline, and she predicted that Republicans will hear from their constituents, just as Soto and the other Democrats holding town halls Saturday expect to hear from theirs, that many people have come to rely on and even like ObamaCare.

Also on the call with Pelosi and Soto were U.S. Reps Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Barbara Lee of California, Judy Chu of California, and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania. They each took turns offering full endorsements of the ACA and anecdotes about how it has helped individual constituents.

“It has been a smashing success in Florida,” Soto said. “We have the largest exchange of any other state. We have received more subsidies than any other state. And we’ve enrolled nearly 1.8 million Floridians. Many working families in Florida have participated in this program because employer health care has been unavailable to them. It has drastically reduced our uninsured rates.

“Our state has much to lose. But really all Americans have much to lose.”

Oscar Braynon: gun legislation is about ‘reality not philosophy’

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon considers 2nd Amendment arguments to be about philosophy and he’d  much rather talk about running from house parties when shots break out or watching from behind a car while the man on the other side is shot dead.

“This is my reality,” Braynon told a room full of journalists gathered for the Associated Press’s annual Florida Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee. “I don’t want to talk about philosophy.

“I represent people who live a life. They don’t live a philosophy,” continued the Miami Gardens Democrat. “They live a life where they have to provide for their children and keep their families safe. And that’s their reality.”

Braynon gave a prebuttle to remarks given later by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam talking to reporters, in which the Republican potential gubernatorial candidate spoke of protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Florida.

Braynon pushed for the Democrats’ agenda, which includes Senate Bill 142 requiring safe storage of firearms, Senate Bill 170 prohibiting guns in performing arts centers, or theaters and 254 prohibiting sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and opposing open-carry and campus-carry legislation pushed by Republicans.

“These are what we believe are common-sense gun legislation,” Braynon said.

“When I talk about guns, I’m not talking about hunting. I’m not talking about this movie thing that apparently some of my colleagues think about, like Die Hard 2,” he said. “I’m talking about real, legit things that happen. I’m talking about my neighborhood. This is my reality.”

He took issue with those who called Democrats’ bills affronts to the 2nd Amendment, saying he and Democrats can support the 2nd Amendment and call for “common sense” restrictions, just as many Republicans say they support the 15th Amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote yet opposing related measures like the Voting Rights Act.

Baynon also declared a hardline stand Tuesday against Republican budget plans to cut spending and taxes. He argued that property tax cuts might give low- to middle-class families relief of just $20 a month while they see reduced services from schools, hospitals and other services that far outstrip that.

And he argued Republicans have been doing it for the full decade he’s been in the Florida Legislature always promising the economic boosts from the strategy would help everyone, but he hasn’t seen it happen.

“It has not worked. The proof is in the pudding, because 10 years later here we are again,” he said.

“I would say doing the same thing expecting new results is insanity. I am going to call it now. We are taking a caucus position as the Senate Democrats against insanity,” Braynon said.

 

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