Thursday, February 22, 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 Florida's death penalty has outlasted its usefulness and should be repealed, but capital punishment is the law in Florida and prosecutors are obligated to consider it in every first-degree murder case.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: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18