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Bob Cortes: Remove Ayala from office not to punish her but to protect citizens

Bob Cortes

Since State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last month that she would not seek the death penalty in the Markeith Loyd case or any other case in the Ninth Circuit, I have been one of the loudest voices denouncing her decision:

I've called for her removal.

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It's not because I take the death penalty lightly. On the contrary, it is because I value life so highly. Human life is precious, and when an individual takes the life of another, justice must be done.

Our laws reflect our values. Societal order breaks down when laws are not followed and enforced. Lawbreakers must be punished, and restitution to victims must be made whenever possible. Murder cases —especially — are inherently difficult and fraught with emotion. When a life is taken, suffering extends beyond the victim to his or her family, friends, co-workers and other lives the person has touched. The impact is immense.

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True restitution for murder is impossible. The victim cannot be restored to his or her family. But the taking of a human life demands justice, however imperfect it may be, including the option of capital punishment. Florida voters overwhelmingly agreed when they last ratified the death penalty by 68 percent in 2002. State Attorney Ayala's decision thwarts the possibility that justice will be done for the victims of heinous crimes committed in my district and erodes public confidence in her office. I have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of the constituents I am privileged to represent.

For Rick Scott to turn a blind eye to Ayala’s failure to carry out her responsibilities would constitute neglect of his own.


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I appreciate the actions Gov. Rick Scott has taken so far. He was right to remove Ayala from the Loyd case, and he was right to reassign the 21 other murder cases on her docket.

His actions are not an "overreach" or a punishment for Ayala, as state Sen. Randolph Bracy wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times last week. Rather, the governor is faithfully carrying out his constitutional duty to see that our laws are faithfully executed. For him to turn a blind eye to Ayala's failure to carry out her responsibilities would constitute neglect of his own.

That's exactly why I believe the governor should go even further and suspend her from office. Despite the claim of Bracy and other Ayala defenders that there is no statutory basis to charge her with dereliction of duty, the fact is that she has failed to use the framework Florida law requires for prosecutors in murder cases.

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Florida Statute 782.04 outlines the mandatory considerations that prosecutors must use in first-degree murder cases to determine whether they will seek a sentence of life imprisonment or death. The law requires prosecutors to consult with victims' families, which Ayala did not do. Her blanket refusal to pursue death sentences in the cases she is responsible for prosecuting clearly demonstrates her violation of this law.

Even if Ayala is morally opposed to the death penalty — a reasonable position many good people hold — the law, in the pursuit of justice, obligates her to leave it on the table for consideration. She has made her intention to violate that obligation very clear.

Even the late Miami-Dade State Attorney and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who I imagine had more in common politically with Ayala than Scott or me, understood her legal obligations, though she made no secret of her personal view. Reno said: "I was personally opposed to the death penalty, and yet I think I have probably asked for the death penalty more than most people in the United States. I had concluded when I was the prosecutor that I would vote against the death penalty if I were in the legislature but that I could ask for it when I was satisfied as to guilt and to the proper application of the penalty."

Those of us who hold office enter into a sacred trust with the people we serve. Our constituents count on us to follow the law in faithfully carrying out our duties. Ayala has broken that trust. I urge Scott to remove her from office, not to punish her, but to protect the citizens of the Ninth Judicial Circuit.

Bob Cortes represents District 30 in the Florida House of Representatives. It includes Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Maitland, and Winter Park in southern Seminole County and northern Orange County.

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