Sunday, September 23, 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 Florida's death penalty has outlasted its usefulness and should be repealed, but capital punishment is the law in Florida and prosecutors are obligated to consider it in every first-degree murder case.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: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Editorial: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Vote by mail has been a stunning success in Florida, increasing turnout and making it easy and convenient to cast a ballot with time to research and reflect. But a new study shows that mail ballots cast by African-American, Hispanic or younger voters...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

State and federal lending regulations exist to protect consumers from being surprised — and overwhelmed — by ballooning debt. Marlin Financial, a shadowy auto lender doing business around Florida, seems to be skirting those protections ...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

In addition to a lesson on political patronage, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam needs a refresher on the particulars of state public records law.In January 2017, Putnam hired the 27-year-old son of a former Publix executive to a high-pay...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

There should be a timely investigation of the allegation of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh before senators hear from him and his accuser, let alone vote on whether they should confirm his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The proces...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/19/18

Editorial cartoons for Sept. 18

From Times wires
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18