On Wednesday, three of the most recognized names in the Central Florida legal community came together to discuss Orange Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision not to seek the death penalty in the Markeith Loyd case and to also weigh in on Governor Rick Scott’s decision to remove her from the case following her decision not to do so.
Former State Attorney and Casey Anthony Prosecutor, Jeff Ashton, Judge O.H Eaton, and George Zimmerman Attorney, Mark O’Mara would discover that even their decades of combined experience did not make them immune to the divisive nature of the case.
The debate was originally supposed to be between Ashton and Eaton, but eventually O’Mara found himself involved in the passionate discussion, melting down the program into a free for all argument over legal interpretation, professional opinions and politics.
Ashton, who lost his reelection bid to Ayala last year, debated that his successor had no legal precedent to make her decision saying “The idea that a prosecutor had the discretion to make this decision based on any other factors other than the ones in the law is unheard of. Despite your personal feelings you must follow the law.”
He later added that the factors Ayala used to make her decision was a violation of statute saying “The state attorney has exceeded the discretion given to her by law. Somebody tell me where I’m wrong”
Eaton anchored his talking points to what he believed was the Governor overstepping his boundaries by taking Ayala off of the case and reappointing them to Lake County State Attorney Brad King. He also jabbed the state legislature for trying to place term limits on judges and grant themselves power to overturn judicial decisions.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented encroachment upon the judicial branch by the government at both the state and federal levels. The folks up in Tallahassee both in the executive and legislative branches are viewing the courts as being in the way of their conservative agendas. We see that everyday.” said Eaton, later adding that he hasn’t identified a statute that Ayala has violated and that she has discretion.
“With all due respect Judge Eaton, you’re just wrong.” answered Ashton “I’m sad that Judge Eaton mentioned no law to help lawyers understand this.
The format of the debate was quickly abandoned when O’Mara began challenging Ashton which took the discussion down a path involving legal procedures and partisan politics.
“You are correct in a slightly fantasy land.” said O’Mara pointing a difference in legal opinions and to Republicans in Tallahassee that he believed are steering the discussion.
At one point Ashton pushed back saying “I don’t hear any law, I just hear you two shouting at me that I’m wrong.”
“I want you to know that I’m soft spoken.” answered Eaton, which drew some laughs from those in attendance.
Despite the contentious nature of the debate there were some light moments and all three joked at one time or another over what the others were saying.
There was also some consensus with all three members of the discussion agreeing that the case should be heard by the Supreme Court.
“I do hope this goes to the Supreme Court because this decision will fundamentally change the concept is about what a prosecutor is in the state of Florida.”