Gov. Rick Scott together with Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a 60-page response to Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s charge that he overstepped his authority in reassigning her cases, contending Ayala has asked him to reassign other cases, and that her argument of “prosecutorial discretion” is actually one seeking no discretion.
Scott’s response, filed late Wednesday with the Florida Supreme Court, also contends that the weight of history and past court decisions all are on his side, and the ramifications of Ayala’s claims would upset a great deal of Florida legal and government precedent and practice.
“If accepted, those claims will have vast, long-lasting, and likely unforeseeable implications for the administration of criminal justice in this State,” Scott’s response concludes. “Even if the Petition’s claims did not fail as a matter of law, this Court should decline the invitation to render an authoritative judgment on these weighty issues on the basis of conclusory and disputed factual allegations.”
The battle is over Ayala’s determination to not pursue death penalty prosecutions in her 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties. It’s also over Scott’s executive response to that March 16 declaration, his executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King of Ocala.
Scott argued he issued the orders against Ayala’s will as a Florida governor has the legal authority to do so of “good and sufficient reason,” as he “determines that the ends of justice would be best served.”
In her writ for quo warrento filed with the Supreme Court on April 11, Ayala charged that as an elected state attorney she has exclusive prosecutorial discretion to decide how to prosecute criminal cases and that Scott did not have the authority to overrule her decisions simply because he disagrees with them.
Numerous outside legal, Civil Rights, prosecutorial, and other groups and individuals have filed amicus briefs – friends of the court – taking sides and laying out additional arguments, indicating what Scott acknowledged in his answer, that the the case has vast, long-lasting and likely unforeseeable implications for justice in Florida.
Ayala’s attorney Roy Austin Jr. replied with the following statement:
“Gov. Scott’s response shows that he continues to overstate his power under Florida law. As one example of his baseless arguments, he criticizes State Attorney Ayala after he specifically ordered her office to turn over all matters related to Markeith Loyd.
“What Gov. Scott has done is an illegal and unprecedented power grab that threatens the independence and integrity of Florida’s judicial system, and we look forward to responding to this filing by May 8.”
Scott’s response makes five arguments:
– Case reassignments by the governor have been common going back to at least 1905, and including all the time since Ayala maintains key Constitution Amendments and law changes favored her. In fact, Scott noted, Ayala herself has requested six reassignments and Scott complied and reassigned four of those for her – all to King, her suggestion.
“Indeed, this Court has ruled that the Governor’s reassignment power is “essential to the orderly conduct of the government and the execution of the laws of this State,” the governor’s brief argues.
– Scott argues that his orders ensure prosecutorial discretion where there was none, not the other way around. He said Ayala’s declaration was essentially that she would not practice case-by-case discretion, while King is free to do so.
King, Scott argues, “is conducting a case-specific review of each matter. State Attorney King retains full discretion not to seek the death penalty in each case and has already determined (based on a preliminary review) that the death penalty may not be appropriate in some of the 23 assigned cases.”
– Scott argues that the case is not about Ayala’s right to not pursue death penalties regardless of circumstances, but any state attorney’s inclination to not pursue anything in particular he or she might not want to pursue, a far too broad prospect for the court to allow.
“It will also apply to prosecutors who disagree with other kinds of criminal laws and penalties—including, for example, hate-crimes enhancements, laws that ban the open carrying of firearms, and campaign-finance regulations,” the brief argues. “Nor can Ayala’s theory of ‘absolute’ and preclusive discretion be confined to prosecutors who adopt across-the-board policies of NEVER enforcing certain statutes. Some locally elected prosecutors may commit to ALWAYS pursuing certain charges or severe sentencing enhancements [such as mandatory minimum sentences] whenever possible and regardless of circumstances.”
– Scott argues that regardless of whether Ayala has a right to refuse certain prosecutions, it does not negate the governor’s right to reassign cases anytime he feels it’s appropriate for the ends of justice to be served.
– And fifth, Scott argues that, all of that aside, Ayala’s request is extraordinary and she has not met the burden of proof to ask the court to consider such major changes in Florida’s prosecutorial and governmental traditions.
“Ayala cannot properly ask this Court to render an authoritative judgment immediately and conclusively accepting such sweeping and far-reaching departures from existing law where, as here, that judgment would necessarily depend upon the acceptance of the emergency petition’s conclusory and heavily disputed factual allegations,” the brief argues.