UPDATE: Rick Scott takes 21 murder cases from Orlando prosecutor who won't seek death penalty
Gov. Rick Scott has taken 21 first-degree murder cases away from Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she said she would not seek the death penalty in any cases while she is in office.
"Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life," Scott said in a statement. "The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision."
All 21 have been reassigned to Brad King, a Republican Ocala-based state attorney whose circuit also includes Hernando County. Scott reassigned the cases under a constitutional provision that lets him do so if he believes it is in the best interests of justice being served in the state, a power that is generally used to avoid conflicts of interest.
After Ayala, a Democrat first elected in November, announced she would not seek the death penalty, Scott quickly reassigned the case of Markeith Loyd, accused of killing Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton as well as his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. Ayala stepped in to try to prevent King from taking over that case.
Ayala could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon. (UPDATE: Eryka Washington, a spokeswoman for Ayala, said her office first found out about the reassigned cases after reading news reports.
"There was never official notification from his office," Washington said in a statement. "Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the Governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system.")
Scott's move Monday is the latest action from Tallahassee officials against the state attorney since her March 16 declaration against the death penalty. State lawmakers have proposed cutting more than $1 million from her office's annual budget to pay for first-degree murder cases that have been reassigned to other circuits.
State attorneys are granted broad discretion in which cases they prosecute and what sentences they seek. That, say Ayala's defenders, is exactly what she is doing. Others, including those who have called for Scott to remove her from office, say she is going beyond the bounds of her office and acting against the spirit of the state's criminal justice laws.