Lawmakers Fail To Expand Impeachment Powers

May 3, 2017

Scores of bills are dead or dying as lawmakers bring the 2017 session to a bumpy conclusion.

Florida's Constitution contains no fine print giving lawmakers the power to impeach public defenders and prosecutors. A measure to change that appears all but dead this session.

Ironically, the casualties include a measure that would have given the Legislature the power to impeach prosecutors and public defenders.

Technically, Republican Representative Jackie Toledo’s proposal is called HJR-999. It’s pretty straightforward.

“Joint Resolution 999 extends the Legislature’s power to impeach state officers for committing misdemeanors in office, to include the state’s 20 state attorneys and public defenders around the state.”

The Legislature already has the power to impeach the governor, lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, state Supreme Court justices and state judges. But for some reason, the Constitution doesn’t mention prosecutors and public defenders.

Toledo essentially told the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, fair is fair.

“This would also be leveling the playing field between state attorneys, public defenders and judges who are subject to impeachment and bring them all to the same accountability level.”

Toledo’s ballot measure was a sleeper when she filed it in February. Only policy wonks seemed to care about arcane impeachment powers, or for that matter, punishing prosecutors and public defenders.

But that changed dramatically just a few weeks later when Aramis Ayala, Florida’s first African American state attorney, shook the political world.

“From Fox 35 and the Orlando Sentinel, this is Orlando News Now! Our state attorney caused quite a firestorm this week when she announced she is not going to be pursuing death penalty cases -- at all!”

Death penalty supporters were outraged, especially since Ayala’s office was prosecuting a heinous double murder.

“And most notably, in the case of Markeith Lloyd, who shot his pregnant girlfriend, and also police officer, Deborah Clayton.”

Florida PBA President John Rivera called Ayala a coward while progressive groups praised her bravery. An angry Governor Rick Scott transferred the Lloyd prosecution, and a handful of others, to a special prosecutor.

“That bothers me. I just think every citizen deserves a state attorney who is going to fully prosecute cases. I want to thank State Attorney Brad King for taking on the cases.”

Ayala is asking the Florida Supreme Court to halt Scott’s order and confirm her discretionary powers as a duly elected constitutional officer.

House and Senate leaders are slashing her budget by $1.3 million. But Toledo’s resolution didn’t get a Senate hearing. During a House committee debate before the Ayala controversy, Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson seemed suspicious.

“So, I’m just curious, what the genesis of this is? Do we have any instances of state attorneys or public defenders in need of corrective action?”

Toledo insisted she had no specific case in mind and it’s not clear the measure would apply in the Ayala case. Officials have to be found guilty of a misdemeanor, and Ayala has not been accused of any crimes.

But Republican Representative Chuck Clemons of Jonesville warned committee members it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“I believe in planning ahead and recognize that there’s some sort of glitch here. Why would we wait until there’s an event, some sort of untoward action?”