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Aramis Ayala for attorney general: A Times Editorial Board recommendation
We need a fresh start in protecting Floridians’ rights
Democratic Attorney General nominee Aramis Donell Ayala smiles while being acknowledged during an Allison Miller campaign event at the Grand Central Brewhouse on Sept. 7 in St.Petersburg.
Democratic Attorney General nominee Aramis Donell Ayala smiles while being acknowledged during an Allison Miller campaign event at the Grand Central Brewhouse on Sept. 7 in St.Petersburg. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 14, 2022|Updated Oct. 14, 2022

Florida’s attorney general is the state’s chief legal officer, responsible for defending the state in civil litigation, suing companies and organizations on behalf of Floridians and handling criminal cases across multiple judicial circuits. The office also mediates disputes involving public access to government records. The attorney general oversees broader statewide issues as one of three elected members of the Cabinet, which includes the state’s chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture. (The governor chairs the Cabinet when it meets.) The attorney general is elected to a four-year term and paid $139,988 annually.

Attorney General: Aramis Ayala, Democrat

Aramis Ayala
Aramis Ayala [ handout ]

Ashley Moody has squandered her time as Florida’s attorney general shilling for Donald Trump, suing the Biden administration and acting as the legal wingman for Ron DeSantis as the governor pursues his presidential ambitions. But Floridians need an attorney general working here, for them, who’s committed to making the justice system fairer for all, and whose independence in office is beyond question. That’s why Democrat Aramis Ayala is the far better choice.

Ayala, 47, is a former state prosecutor and public defender who is now an assistant professor of legal studies at the University of Central Florida. In 2016, she was elected state attorney for Florida’s 9th judicial circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, making history in becoming the first elected Black state attorney in Florida.

Ayala ran on a promise to confront racial bias in prosecutions, to make the state attorney’s office more transparent and to reach out to marginalized communities who felt unduly targeted by the criminal justice system. But she quickly made national headlines by announcing shortly after taking office that she would not seek the death penalty in capital cases handled by her office, saying that pursuing death served neither the interests of the community nor of justice.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott reacted by reassigning dozens of murder cases from Ayala to another circuit, prompting legal action by Ayala that ended when the Florida Supreme Court, in a split decision, upheld Scott’s reassignment of the cases. In response, Ayala created a panel to review death penalty cases to decide whether to seek capital punishment. She also declined to seek a second term, citing among the reasons her continued opposition to the death penalty.

Ayala’s concerns about bias in capital prosecutions and the death penalty’s effectiveness as a deterrent are legitimate. But she was obligated to examine each case and make individual determinations on whether pursuing death was appropriate. This was a mistake on her part that ultimately damaged her own ambitions for criminal justice reform.

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Still, Ayala’s rounded experience, principled agenda and appreciation for the attorney general’s broad responsibilities make her the best choice in the race.

Ayala would use the full range of her office for the public good. She promises to protect the hard-won rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQ community. She calls Florida’s new 15-week abortion law unconstitutional and vows to protect a woman’s “sacred right” to choose. She pledges to investigate shady nursing homes, fraudulent insurers and predatory lenders, and to crack down on slumlords and discriminatory mortgage practices. Ayala would also target illegal polluters and investment scams. As attorney general, and a member of Florida’s Cabinet, Ayala would be in a position to police abuses across a wide spectrum of society, helping to better protect consumers, seniors, homeowners and Florida’s natural environment.

Moody, 47, is a former federal prosecutor and Hillsborough County circuit court judge and descendent of a well-known legal family. (DeSantis appointed her brother as a Hillsborough County court judge in 2020, and in April, elevated him to the circuit court bench.) Moody has put the spotlight on the opioid crisis and human trafficking, but she’s also increasingly careened into the partisan culture wars.

Moody filed a brief in a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 election that even her own lawyers mocked, one calling it “bats--t insane.” She’s sued the Biden administration over vaccine mandates, masking requirements and immigration, criticized the Justice Department for the seizure of documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and defended the DeSantis-backed “don’t say gay” law, calling the outcry over restrictions on gender identity instruction in schools a “big farce.” In September, Moody’s office said it thinks the Florida Supreme Court should reverse a decades-old position that a privacy clause in the state Constitution protects abortion rights.

Four years ago, this editorial board recommended Moody, and she’s turned out to be a serious disappointment. Unfortunately, too much of her agenda has been nonsense, if not outright dangerous, and it’s beyond time that Floridians had a fair advocate in that office. Having both prosecuted and defended criminal cases, Ayala knows the strengths and weaknesses of Florida’s criminal justice system. She isn’t blind to bias or abuse in the pursuit of public safety. And she would be a good check on the excesses of what is effectively one-party rule in Florida.

For Florida Attorney General, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Aramis Ayala.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.