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Governor’s office affirmed prosecutorial discretion, state attorneys’ independence, in letter last year

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Among material filed Tuesday with Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden.

Ayala’s attorneys Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C. and Marcos Hasbun of Tampa included the letter as an appendix to their writ of quo warranto, which asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders used to strip cases from Ayala.

The governor issued those orders reassigning first-degree murder cases from her to 5th Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King because the governor believed she overstepped her authority when she claimed prosecutorial discretion and refused to pursue death penalties.

Yet almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services.

The governor’s office has not yet had a chance to review and respond to the filing and the appendix.

“Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.

“The state attorneys operate independently, and as elected officials, they answer only to the voters of their individual jurisdictions,” Davis’s letter continued.

Ayala’s petition for a writ, filed Tuesday by Austin and Hasbun, cites amendments to Article V, Section 17, to the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1972 and 1986 saying they “expressly required for the first time that ‘the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts’ in his or her judicial circuit and made it clear that any exception to this must be ‘provided in this constitution.’

“Until the last few weeks,” the writ continues, “the Office of Governor Scott agreed that the Ninth Circuit State Attorney had discretion over the cases in his judicial circuit.” It then cites the April 21, 2016 letter.

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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