Ayala: If we re­ally want pub­lic safety, we have to do what works

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Gal Tziper­man Lotan and Bianca Padró Oca­sio

Or­ange-Oscela State At­tor­ney Aramis Ayala spoke to re­porters Thurs­day morn­ing about her back­ground and process in ad­just­ing to her elected po­si­tion as the re­gion’s top pros­e­cu­tor.

The event was hosted by the Cen­tral Flor­ida chap­ter of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of His­panic Jour­nal­ists. Ayala has held a few press con­fer­ences since tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary but does not of­ten speak pub­licly in the re­gion.

“We’re in this whole era of crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, the need for it in this coun­try, def­i­nitely the need for it in Flor­ida,” she said. “And while I didn’t use the words ‘crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form’ [dur­ing the cam­paign], if you lis­tened to my plat­form from the time I said I was go­ing to run in March of last year and un­til to­day, ev­ery­thing was about do­ing what is right.”

Ayala an­nounced in March that she will not seek the death penalty for any­one. Gov. Rick Scott re­sponded by tak­ing a to­tal of 29 first-de­gree mur­der cases away from her of­fice, trans­fer­ring them to State At­tor­ney Brad King of Ocala. The leg­is­la­ture cut about $1.3 mil­lion from Ayala’s bud­get — bring­ing the fund­ing to about what it was in Fis­cal Year 2016.

“While we are func­tion­ing, it’s cer­tainly putting strain be­cause if we don’t get the money that we need, we may have to make ad­just­ments to our hu­man traf­fick­ing and our do­mes­tic vi­o­lence di­vi­sions to make cer­tain that out other di­vi­sions are well-bal­anced,” she said.

Ayala sued Scott, and the Flor­ida Supreme Court even­tu­ally ruled in Scott’s fa­vor. She then re­vised the pol­icy, say­ing pros­e­cu­tors in her of­fice will be able to seek the death penalty where they find it ap­pro­pri­ate and fea­si­ble.

“I made a de­ci­sion, I be­lieve it was the right thing, the court re­jected it, I ad­justed,” she said.

Ayala also spoke briefly about re-es­tab­lish­ing a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence unit within the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice with about 25 pros­e­cu­tors, vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates and par­ale­gals fo­cused only on do­mes­tic cases. She also said the of­fice re­cently hired 20 at­tor­neys fresh off pass­ing their bar ex­ams.

“I never in­tended on run­ning for of­fice,” she said. “It wasn’t a dream of mine. And quite frankly, I en­joy very in­ti­mate set­tings. I en­joy real con­nec­tions between peo­ple, and be­ing in a po­lit­i­cal role can re­move that. That’s why my fam­ily, hus­band, my par­ents, my sib­lings, my clos­est friends, those peo­ple mean the most to me, be­cause I still can main­tain that level of in­ti­macy.

“Quite frankly, when we do what we feel, it’s a true threat to pub­lic safety,” Ayala said. “If we re­ally want pub­lic safety, we have to do what works, what re­duces re­cidi­vism rates, be­cause we don’t want peo­ple to con­tinue to be back in the sys­tem. So a lot of my goals are just that.”

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