Today's date is August 7, 2020

ACLU Muddies State Attorney Race

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This week, a Florida political committee, the “Committee to Advance Constitutional Values,” whose organizing documents indicate its affiliation with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Inc., issued a mail piece to an as yet unknown number of Orange and Osceola voters in which the policy positions solicited from at least two of the four candidates in the Ninth Circuit State Attorney race were misrepresented, resulting in only one candidate appearing to align with questions that were grossly inflammatory and for which a reasonable person would only assume supportive of that particular candidate.

In the mailer, attached hereto, Ryan Williams is portrayed as being in favor of continuing the “school to jail pipeline,” continuing the “prosecution of poverty crimes,” and “prosecuting low-level marijuana possession.” These representations are false. The actual responses can be found at https://aclufljusticevoter.org/orange-and-osceola-county-state-attorney-questionnaires

The questions in the mailer were not even specifically asked in the survey, but the closest are below:

The most egregious example is as follows: The ACLU survey asked, “Do you commit to not direct filing youth in the adult system?” – This question was transformed on the mailer as “ Cut off the school – to – prison pipeline” for which Williams was listed as a “No” and Worrell was listed as a “Yes.”

The actual responses are as follows:

Ryan Williams –

Monique Worrell 

I commit to significantly reducing the use of “direct files” in the Ninth Circuit and answer “no” above because it asks for a promise to completely not direct file.  While I do not believe we should regularly use adult court and sanctions for juvenile arrestees, there are situations, particularly violent crimes, where the State Attorney must have the ability to direct file for the safety of the public.  For example, just last year a 13 years committed a murder where there was evidence the killing was premeditated.  This is exactly the type of rare situation I believe the ability to direct should be used.

However, I do commit to reducing the use of direct filing and to personally approving any direct file as the elected State Attorney.

There is currently no appropriate system to deal with children who commit violent offenses. While I agree that children should generally not be direct filed to the adult system; the juvenile system is not properly equipped to address those rare instances when the offenses are particularly egregious and result in loss of life.  In those instances, a waiver to adult court may be the only option to ensure public safety.

They answered the same, yet Worrell was listed differently in the Mailer.

Another question asked, “Will you adopt a policy to decline to prosecute offenses   associated with poverty, health and lifestyle, such as failure to pay fines, loitering, trespassing, sex work, and low-level shoplifting and drug cases?” – This question was transformed on the mailer as “End the prosecution of poverty crimes” for which Williams was listed as a “No” and Worrell was listed as a “Yes”

The actual responses are as follows:

Ryan Williams

Monique Worrell

Blanket policies and refusals to prosecute entire classes of offenses is a refusal to exercise discretion and, according to the Florida Supreme Court, justification for removal of that entire class of cases from a State Attorney. Any State Attorney who blanketly refuses to enforce a class of laws is, in my opinion, endangering the important rule of law in our country. However, I understand that such offenses have a disparate impact on the poor and lead to over-incarceration and would work hard to divert these offenses to programs and away from fines, probation, and jail time.

Yes

According to Ryan Williams, “to say that I want to continue arresting kids and disparately prosecute the disadvantaged of our community, or don’t seek reformation of our drug laws is ridiculous and misrepresents my policy positions.  It’s shameful.  Nothing could be further from the truth and in fact those statements are contradicted by my past media statements, including my own letters to the editor as far back as 2011, as well as my  responses to the ACLU questions, and the actual transcript of the ACLU of Central Florida forum I participated in [Transcript attached].  If you took the time to review the transcript, you will see that Ms. Worrell, who was awarded a “Yes” to for all of the listed issues, gave the same responses to the policy questions as to the topics of the mailer. If there is a difference, it’s that having actually been a prosecutor, I understand the matters enough to know that they require responses beyond a simple “Yes” or “No” and that is evident in the fact that I provided the most detailed responses of any candidate in this race, with actionable ideas, not just rhetoric and slogans. ”

The Political Director for ACLU, Kirk Bailey, and their political consultant Maya Brown, were contacted by the Ryan Williams Campaign, and  in response to a demand from the campaign for a retraction, stating in a phone conversation to the campaign, “a distinction had to be made” while at the same time declaring the ACLU a “neutral” organization.

Board members of the ACLU of Central Florida, who conducted the Zoom forum, were also dismayed to see what they recognized as a misrepresentation of Williams’ positions, by the state and National ACLU. 

Per Ryan Williams, “I have been a life – long Democrat, an advocate for justice, and my  family has donated to the ACLU, because it has always stood for speaking truth to power and seeking justice under the Constitution. Yet what they and their political committee have done under the banner of the ACLU and its reputation for truth and fairness, is to misrepresent my positions to my own electorate and ensured voters make a decision based on false statements. They wrongfully tipped the scales, which is disappointing and frankly ironic since this is the kind of behavior that the ACLU has been fighting against for over 100 years.”

With approximately 80% of voters in this race voting by vote-by-mail ballot or early voting, it’s unknown how many voters have seen the mailer and already cast their ballots based on it.

The ACLU website describes themselves  as  the nation’s “premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.”

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