Repeatedly saying that his concern is with her blanket statement to decline death penalty prosecutions, state Rep. Bob Cortes renewed his call Tuesday for the resignation or suspension of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
Cortes is emerging as one of Ayala’s sternest critics after the state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit announced last month that she had concluded the death penalty is not just for anyone and would not pursue it.
That’s resulted in Gov. Rick Scott stripping 22 murder cases from her office and reassigning them, a move Cortes applauded Tuesday in a press conference at the Florida Capital.
But Cortes and state Rep. Scott Plakon, both of Altamonte Springs, made it clear they believe Ayala is derelict in her duties because her blanket statement means she will not review each case individually, as they believe she must.
The dispute with critics such as Cortes and Scott resides on the interpretation of a state attorney’s right and responsibility to exercise prosecutorial discretion.
Ayala and her supporters, who includes a group of lawyers, retired judges, retired Florida Supreme Court justices and law professors who signed a letter supporting her, and who, at last count, numbered more than 160, argue that prosecutorial discretion gives her the power to do what she has done.
Cortez and others counter that the prosecutorial discretion must be applied case-by-case.
“If she would not have made the statement that she was not seeking the death penalty, I think none of us would be up here, to be honest with you,” Cortes said.
“If she used each individual case, and [made decisions to not pursue the death penalty] based on the merit and aggravated circumstances, yeah, we would be a little critical,” he continued. “But I don’t think we’d be calling for her removal, because that’s within her purview. She made a statement that she cannot retract, that said, ‘I will not seek any death penalty cases here now or in the future.’ That’s where I’m coming from.”
For the third time in a month, Cortes said he has asked Scott to suspend her from office.
“Article 4, Section 7, of the Florida Constitution says the governor may suspend based on neglect of duty,” he said. “By not reviewing each case based on aggravating circumstances, I believe this is a neglect of duty and she must either resign or the governor must suspend her and appoint someone in her place.”
Cortes and Plakon also were joined Tuesday by two other members of Central Florida’s Republican House delegation, Mike Miller of Winter Park, and Rene Plasencia of Orlando, while Jennifer Sullivan sent her support for them but could not attend.
However, only Cortes and Plakon spoke up, with Plakon adding criticism that his proposed $1.3 million budget cut for Ayala’s office should not hurt prosecution in Orange and Osceola counties because her office has so many vacancies.
“In recent days the state attorney… has been in various media outlets talking about the ‘parade of horribles’ that may happen if the 21 positions and $1.3 million is cut from the budget,” Plakon said.
Plakon cited state data that says her office currently has 60 openings out of 386.5 positions. Ayala’s office told FloridaPolitics.com that it has 33 vacancies, with five more employees coming on line soon.
“Thirty-three is still greater than 21. So all of the statements she’s made about the harm coming and so on, these are vacant positions she’s talking about,” Plakon said.