TALLAHASSEE — A former state attorney in central Florida who routinely clashed with Republican officials and law enforcement over her refusal to seek the death penalty during her single, four-year term announced Wednesday she is running for Florida attorney general as a Democrat.
Former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed paperwork with the state Division of Elections for the 2022 election. If she wins the Democratic nomination in August, she will likely face Republican incumbent Attorney General Ashley Moody in November.
“Floridians are working harder than ever these days, but, thanks to a broken justice system and corporate interests that place profits above people, they’re barely keeping their heads above water,” Ayala said in a statement. “I firmly believe that if we’re going to change Florida’s trajectory for the better, it starts at the state level.”
Ayala said she’s running for attorney general to fight back against attacks by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans on voting and civil rights, reproductive health, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, communities of color and the environment.
Running for Florida attorney general means Ayala is abandoning her campaign for U.S. Congress. She had been running for a central Florida seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who is running for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.
Aramis served as a public defender and an assistant state attorney for nearly 15 years before being elected as State Attorney of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit in 2016. Soon after taking office, she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases. This included the case of Markeith Loyd, who was accused of killing an Orlando police officer in 2017. The decision caused outrage in the law enforcement community.
Ayala said then that capital punishment had been unevenly applied and was not a deterrent for serious crimes — a stance she had not publicly expressed during her campaign.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott promptly reassigned 29 death penalty cases from her office to a state attorney in a neighboring judicial circuit. The Republican-led Florida Legislature also slashed the budget for Ayala by $1.3 million.
The reassignments sparked a legal battle that went to Florida’s high court, which ruled against Ayala. Then she reversed her policy and created a panel of prosecutors to review future capital cases, but did not seek the return of the cases that were taken from her office by Scott.
DeSantis took away another murder case in 2020 after then-Osceola Sheriff Russ Gibson accused Ayala of hindering the investigation of the killing of a St. Cloud woman, Nicole Montalvo, in order to “advance her position against the death penalty.”
Ayala called Gibson’s claims, included in a letter to DeSantis, “complete blatant lies.”
Ayala did not run for reelection as state attorney in 2020.