Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Protect independence of prosecutors

The controversy surrounding Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala and her decision not to seek the death penalty in the case of a man accused of killing a police officer — or any case in her jurisdiction — is escalating by the day. But cool heads are needed, not blanket statements or reactionary calls for removing an elected prosecutor. Superseding any single case and even the larger debate about the death penalty is the imperative to preserve the independence and discretion of Florida's constitutionally elected officials.

Ayala, a Democrat who took office in January, announced last week she would not seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, who is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. Prosecutors in Florida have broad discretion over when to seek capital punishment, with the law directing that they weigh the facts and circumstances of each case individually. But Ayala, in announcing her decision, didn't cite any specifics about Loyd's case. She offered only general criticisms of the death penalty — that it's not an effective crime deterrent and brings further pain to victims' families — and made the extraordinary declaration that she wouldn't seek the death penalty in any case. Florida's death penalty has outlasted its usefulness and should be repealed, but capital punishment is the law in Florida and prosecutors are obligated to consider it in every first-degree murder case. Ayala, by issuing a sweeping refusal to consider the death penalty in any case, flouts her authority and has let her personal views outweigh her professional obligations.

Gov. Rick Scott removed her from the Loyd case and reassigned it to the state attorney in a neighboring circuit. Scott first asked Ayala to withdraw from the case, and when she refused, he seized on a state law that allows the governor to appoint a new prosecutor to a case if he finds a "good and sufficient reason" to take it away from the original prosecutor. This is a precarious path. Governors should not intercede in charging decisions about individual cases, and it's a close call whether Scott overstepped his authority.

More than 100 attorneys, law professors and judges, including former state Supreme Court chief justices Harry Lee Anstead and Gerald Kogan and former Florida State University president Sandy D'Alemberte, say he did. In a letter sent to Scott on Monday, the lawyers wrote: "The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice." With that troubling precedent, there's all the more reason for caution and measured steps. But Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a former prosecutor who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, is among those calling for Ayala's removal. Such rhetoric is inflammatory and unjustified.

In a better Florida, there would be no death penalty, which over its history has been unevenly applied, saddled taxpayers with enormous expense and resulted in the death of innocent people. But as long as it is in force, state attorneys are legally bound to consider it in first-degree murder cases and make independent decisions. To do that justly, they must be able to exercise their discretion free from political interference. Ayala should reconsider her position and pledge to consider each death penalty case individually — and the governor and state legislators should not intervene when they disagree.

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Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18