In the hours after Florida’s Supreme Court ruled against anti-death-penalty activist Aramis Ayala on Thursday afternoon, the embattled state prosecutor announced a desperate ploy to try and save face: the formation of a special committee of seven assistant prosecutors who will have the ominous task of not only deciding how to prosecute first-degree murder cases, but also of trying to make sure their decision doesn’t offend Ayala’s personal sensibilities. In a statement, Ayala described the role of the panel this way:
“With implementation of this panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly.”
The names of the unlucky seven attorneys will be announced at a press conference Friday morning. The problem is, making those kinds of decisions is exactly why state prosecutors are elected and held accountable by voters. The seven assistant prosecutors she picks to lead her newly formed committee, as seasoned as they might be, will be forced to do her job for her. That is not what voters – and taxpayers – pay her for. To make matters worse, if this panel makes the decision not to seek the death penalty in a certain case, voters and taxpayers will be left wondering how much influence Ayala has over the panelists. After all, she’s their boss, and whose to say such a decision won’t have been made in an effort to curry favor with her?
Aramis Ayala was elected to the position and it is her solemn duty carry it out, not to shirk her duty and expect underlings to pick up the slack. That’s not leadership. Imagine the furor if we had a governor telling his or her unelected deputy chiefs of staff to sign death warrants ordering the execution of a condemned man. Such an abdication of duty is not only offensive, it’s just plain disgusting.
Ayala has tried to blame Governor Rick Scott for sticking his nose into her business, but after the Supreme Court ruling, her own remarks make her look foolish. In her own rejected argument to the court, Ayala wrote:
“By inserting his personal politics into this case, Gov. Scott’s unprecedented action is dangerous and could compromise the prosecution of Markeith Loyd and threatens the integrity of Florida’s judicial system.”
As it turns out, Supreme Court Justice Al Lawson, writing for the majority, made it clear it was her own personal politics that were the problem:
“By effectively banning the death penalty in the Ninth Circuit — as opposed to making case-specific determinations as to whether the facts of each death-penalty eligible case justify seeking the death penalty — Ayala has exercised no discretion at all…Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case, including a case that ‘absolutely deserve[s] [the] death penalty’ does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”
So here we not only have a prosecutor who (five Supreme Court Justices agree) doesn’t even understand Florida law, but who also refuses to do her duty. Instead, her solution is to force other people -none of them elected to do so – to carry out the dirty work for her.
Ayala should resign honorably, or be removed dishonorably from her job by whatever legal means are available to the people of Florida.