Aramis Ayala slams proposed budget cuts as threatening public safety in Central Florida

Scott Plakon and Aramis Ayala

Orlando’s embattled state Attorney Aramis Ayala accused the Florida Legislature of threatening the public safety and economic health of Central Florida by proposing budget cuts of at least $1.3 million to her office.

The Florida House Judicial Appropriations Subcommittee unveiled a budget Tuesday that would cut that much from the Office of the State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit. State Rep. Scott Plakon, an Altamonte Springs Republican who engineered that cut, has openly acknowledged the move as a response to Ayala’s controversial decision to not prosecute death penalties in the district.

Also on Tuesday the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice unveiled a budget that would cut $1.4 million from her office budget. However, that cut was characterized as rolling back two programs that were first funded last year, and made no mention of Ayala’s stand on the death penalty.

Both house’s budget proposals would essentially eliminate 21 staff positions in Ayala’s office.

Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland, vice chair of the Senate justice appropriations subcommittee, made no public comments during either Tuesday’s meeting when Chair Aaron Bean, a Jacksonville Republican, unveiled his proposal, nor on Wednesday when Bean’s committee met briefly to discuss the proposal.

However Bracy expressed his displeasure and said he intends to address it when the budget reaches the full Senate Appropriations Committee, where he has a seat.

“I’m going to propose an amendment in the next committee to restore that funding,” Bracy said.

At least for now, the proposed cuts are the status. Ayala, a Democrat, issued a statement through her office Tuesday saying they would hurt her office’s ability to prosecute criminals, and urging solidarity for public safety in the counties it covers, Orange and Osceola.

“Of all the cases this office handles, less than .01 percent are death penalty cases.  The other 99.99 percent include non-capital homicides, sexual batteries, sex crimes against children, domestic violence, drug and human trafficking, carjackings, robberies, burglaries, DUI’s, thefts, aggravated assaults, batteries and other violent and non-violent crimes,” Ayala stated.

“The impact of cutting $1.3 million and eliminating 21 positions would severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community,” she continued.

Plakon, one of the harshest critics of her stance on the death penalty, argued that while the circuit might receive very few death penalty cases, each one is enormously expensive to prosecute. He contended that if Ayala is not going to prosecute any, then money should be removed from her budget and given to other state attorneys who will, who could use the extra money for that purpose.

The house budget explicitly calls for that, making $1.3 million deleted from the 9th JC State Attorney’s Office available to others, “as necessary to cover additional costs associate [sic] with reassigned death penalty cases.”

That would start with the office of 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, who was assigned to handle the Markeith Loyd murder trial out of Orange County after Gov. Rick Scott stripped that case from Ayala two weeks ago.

Plakon said he does not believe the cut would impact Ayala’s ability to prosecute other crimes.

“She’s not prosecuting death penalty cases, so this is essentially the money to be used for death penalty cases, so that’s a ridiculous argument,” Plakon said.

When asked about one of her justifications for not pursuing the death penalty, that the cases are so expensive that she could divert money to the prosecution of other crimes, Plakon replied, “The bottom line is her dereliction of her responsibilities, and there is a cost to that.”

Plakon was away on business Tuesday and did not actually attend the House subcommittee meeting where his recommendation was revealed in the proposed budget. However, three other Central Florida state representatives were, Vice Chair Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere, Mike Miller of Winter Park, and Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora, all Republicans.

The Orange County Democratic Party blasted them Wednesday, charging they put their own constituents at risk by not objecting to cuts in their own district’s prosecution money. The Orange Democrats did not comment on Bracy’s silence during the Senate subcommittee meetings.

Orange Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge called the concurrence of Eisnaugle, Miller and Sullivan, “a show of utter weakness.”

“By cutting 20-plus attorneys from the ninth circuit’s office, the speed of justice will slow to a crawl,” Hodge contended in a statement issued by the county party. “Fewer attorneys prosecuting criminals put more cases at risk of being dismissed due to violations of the Constitutional right to a speedy trial. The end result of this ideological action will allow criminals to evade prosecution, and our community will be less safe thanks to these three Republicans.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].

One comment

  • Concerned Citizen

    March 29, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    The budget cut makes great sense. This new State prosecutor’s office has ceded responsibility or is afraid to try cases involving what the law deems capital offenses. While such a thing as “prosecutorial discretion” exists, this young woman has made a blanket decision that no case warrants the death penalty, no matter how heinous. Discretion involves the evaluation of the facts of cases singularly, not painting her own views blindly upon the facts of cases en masse. Accordingly, if the worst-case scenario for a convicted defendant is life in prison, the prosecutor’s office will be performing far less work trying to defend a death sentence on appeal. And, as we know, a life sentence never truly amounts to that no matter how deserving. As such, she needs less of the taxpayer’s money to operate her office.

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