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Ayala Lawyers Rip Governor Over Death Penalty Dispute

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Lawyers for Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala fired back Monday against Gov. Rick Scott for shifting 23 death-penalty case to another prosecutor, describing his actions as “baldly political.”

The brief, filed in the Florida Supreme Court, was part of a series of legal arguments filed by people on both sides of a dispute about whether Scott had the authority to strip Ayala's office of death-penalty cases and shift them to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King.

Scott made the decision after Ayala said she would not seek the death penalty, including in the case of alleged Orlando cop killer Markeith Loyd. Ayala, who was elected last year in the circuit made up of Orange and Osceola counties, challenged Scott in the Supreme Court, arguing she has broad legal discretion in decisions about issues such as whether to pursue death sentences.

“Governor Rick Scott falsely claims that, as long as he has some reason for removing a state attorney from any case, he can do so at any time, whether or not the state attorney opposes removal,” the brief said. “Scott ignores the constitutional mandate that state attorneys `shall' prosecute local cases.”

The brief also said, “Importantly, nowhere in his opposition does Scott argue that Ayala has somehow failed to do her job — and wisely so, because that charge would be unfounded. Ayala did not refuse to prosecute capital cases or pledge to seek lenient sentences for convicted killers. She was — and is — zealously prosecuting crimes in her judicial circuit. Nor has Ayala refused to listen to victims' families as she decides how to prosecute cases. Ayala has honored all of her statutory obligations as state attorney, and will continue to do so.”