A Florida State Attorney is defying Rick Scott over a death penalty case

Things are getting ugly in Florida and it’s once again because of the ongoing debate over their capital punishment laws. But the current situation has less to do with the defendant in one of these cases than with the state attorney. Aramis Ayala was assigned the case of Markeith Loyd not long after being sworn into office and soon announced that she would not be seeking the death penalty at trial. This came as something of a surprise since Loyd was charged in a double homicide for the execution style slaying of not only his pregnant girlfriend, but a police officer who was attempting to apprehend him. Governor Rick Scott quickly got involved, calling for Ayala to step aside on this case, but she is apparently refusing and appealing the order.

Within hours of her announcement Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott called on Ayala, state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit, to recuse herself from the cases. When she refused, he appointed a pro-death penalty special prosecutor to take over — an action critics claimed was an overreach of executive power.

On Monday, the extraordinary legal standoff got even uglier when Ayala, who previously said she would obey any “lawful order” from the governor, called his actions “unprecedented” and said he “overstepped his bounds” by removing her. She said she may challenge Scott’s authority in court.

Uglier still was a comment from the finance director at the Seminole County Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s office, who wrote on Facebook that Ayala “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree,” reported the Orlando Sentinel.

This one may not be as obvious as it appears at first glance. Florida elects their state attorneys for each of the 10 districts they serve. (For an interesting bit of spice to add to the story, Ayala’s campaign was heavily financed by George Soros.) As an elected official instead of a political appointee, Ayala might reasonably claim that she works directly for her constituents more so than as a functionary under the Governor and the State Attorney General. But it becomes even more complicated because state law allows the governor to replace an attorney with a special prosecutor (which is what Rick Scott is attempting to do) under some vaguely described circumstances where there are “good and sufficient reasons” and where “the ends of justice would be served.”

That only seems to be half of the equation the way I see it. If you run for the job of state attorney you are pretty much declaring that you are ready, willing and able to uphold and enforce the law. While there have been a series of challenges to Florida’s laws regarding capital punishment, at the moment it’s on the books, though under appeal. While such decisions generally fall under the discretion of the prosecutor, the death penalty is one tool which is supposed to be on the table where appropriate. Ayala clearly knew this going in when she asked for the job in the first place. There seems to be little question about the appropriateness of the death penalty in this case. Just read through the description of the horrendous murders at this link assuming your stomach can handle it.

But the reality is that the decision made by Ayala has very little to do with Markeith Loyd. She’s not just stating that she won’t seek the death penalty in his case, but that she won’t do it in any cases. Until such time as the law may be struck down, that sounds like a decision which is in defiance of the will the public as currently expressed through their elected representatives. A better way to put it would be to say that she’s simply not doing her job.

As far as I can see, when an employee is not doing their job it certainly falls into the category of “appropriate” for the boss to remove them from their position. It really shouldn’t be any different here. If Ayala didn’t want to process cases where the possibility existed that capital punishment might come into play she probably should’ve run for office in a different state with more liberal laws.