By Greg Jackson
So here I sit, at my desk in a cramped office plugging away on a motion for summary judgment that will hopefully get my client out of a case that, in my opinion, should not have ever been filed. Instead of sitting here, however, I should be at a local watering hole celebrating with a snifter of Johnny Walker Blue Label, neat of course, and puffing on an Ashton Maduro. You see today is the day I can pound on my chest with pride and say “I told you so.” I, a product of public school, a connoisseur of boiled peanuts and FSU fan, outwitted some of the brightest legal minds when I said, “Governor Scott absolutely had the authority to remove Aramis Ayala from all death penalty cases in Orange and Osceola counties.” For those who may have missed that, allow me to set the proverbial stage.
If you have not heard by now, in case number SC17-653, the matter of Aramis Donell Ayala, etc. v. Rick Scott, Governor, the Florida Supreme Court came back 5-to-2 in favor of Governor Scott. The ruling of the highest Court in our state confirms that Gov. Scott does indeed have
the authority to take death penalty cases from Ms. Ayala after she said to the whole world that she would never seek the death penalty, even in cases that deserve such consideration. When I first heard Ms. Ayala’s blanket statement that sought to change death penalty law in Florida, I immediately went to the airwaves and stated unequivocally that Ms. Ayala was wrong. Supporters of Ms. Ayala and opponents of the death penalty attempted to engulf me in a
hailstorm of opposition, but I endured. They said I was anti-female – which I am not. They said I was anti-Black – which is ridiculous because I am not. They said I was a Republican operative – which I am not, but would consider (just kidding). They said I was a Rick Scott fan – which I am not completely there, but I am still waiting for a reply from his office about my being appointed to a judgeship or something (wink, wink, nod). Supporters of Ms. Ayala said a lot of
interesting things about me and my position, except the one thing that was true; they failed to mention that quite simply I read the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. Throughout the whole debacle as people challenged me and my position I stood firm on my interpretation of the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes, and all but guaranteed folks that the Florida Supreme Court would come back in favor of Governor Scott.
You see, instead of approaching this matter between Gov. Scott and Ms. Ayala as a Black-White, male-female, Democrat-Republican issue, I just simply read the words that outlined the role of the Governor and determined that while he may not necessarily have the authority or power to remove her from her elected office, he most certainly does have the authority to reassign her cases to another state attorney’s office since she refused to consider death penalty for any case that warranted such consideration. In a much more tactful way than I, the Florida Supreme Court said it best:
“As Florida’s chief executive officer, the Governor is vested with the ‘supreme executive power’ and is charged with the duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’”
In paraphrasing Chris Tucker in a comment he made to Jackie Chan in the blockbuster hit movie “Rush Hour,” the Governor (no matter who he or she is) is Michael Jackson and the State Attorneys (no matter who they are) are Tito, their respective derrieres (buttocks) belong to him. In other words, even though state attorneys are elected they fall under the executive branch of government in the State of Florida which places them under the authority of the Governor. It is shocking that none of the academic heavyweights, ivy-league educated, $1,000-an-hour lawyers working for Ms. Ayala figured this out. Instead, the academic heavyweights, ivy-league educated, $1,000-an-hour lawyers were taken to the woodshed by a couple of Florida Assistant Attorney Generals, like I was not too long ago, simply because they read the law as it was written, not in a way they wanted it to be read. Adding a bit of insult to injury to Ms. Ayala’s “Dream Team” of out of state, over-priced lawyers, the Florida Supreme Court further stated:
“Thus, under Florida law, Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case, including a case that “absolutely deserve[s] [the] death penalty” does not reflect an exercise of
prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”
If I can digress for a moment, a lesson can be learned from this. I have pointed to an interpretation of Florida Statutes before and have been doubted (i.e., Chapter 163, Part III, Florida Community Redevelopment Act). In much the same way that I was able to see through the forest with the authority of the Governor, trust me, I have seen through the weeds on Chapter 163 as well. Much like the 1981 class action lawsuit against the City of Apopka, Dowdell v. The city of Apopka Florida, where the U.S. District Court found the disparate rendering of services provided to those living in “South Apopka,” I also see a disparate use of Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency funds, funds that are going to areas other than where they are most effective and needed – South Apopka. So, to get back on track, if my ability to interpret statutory provisions is what I proclaim it to be, I predict that soon I will be pounding
my chest again and saying “I told you so” – in my humble opinion.
To read the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, go here.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.