I had an opportunity recently to sit down and talk with Aramis Ayala, one of three candidates vying for the office of Orange County State Attorney. Her campaign manager Treminasha Lambert, reached out to us and suggested that we speak to her candidate, to get her views on this race and the need for change in the prosecutor’s office. I’m glad she called.
I don’t impress easily. I’ve heard so much from so many politicians over the years that I’m probably a little jaded, and frankly tired of the neatly packaged campaign sound bites that tickle the ears but do nothing for the brain.
But I came away from this interview thinking that this Aramis Ayala just might be the real deal.
Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, Aramis graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 2001 and almost immediately headed for warmer weather. Her first job out of law school was in the Polk County State Attorney’s Office here in Florida.
Prosecuting the bad guys is in her blood. And she likes the weightier cases, the “major crimes,” if you please.
She’s principled. Some might say to a fault. As a prosecutor she once experienced a member of law enforcement lie on the witness stand, and it disillusioned her. She left the prosecutor’s office after 2-1/2 years and became an Assistant Public Defender in Orange County. For the next 8-1/2 years, she defended people charged with Capital Life Felonies, served as lead felony attorney and the County Court Supervisor.
But the other side kept calling her. She’s a prosecutor down deep, feeling more of a need to protect the rest of us against criminals than protecting alleged criminals from the state.
She joined the State Attorney’s office in Orange County, where she worked for the next 2-1/2 years before resigning to run for the top prosecutor’s seat.
She’s also a professor at FAMU School of Law, so she brings something refreshing to her campaign for office. Not only does she see the law from the eye of both the prosecution and the defense, but she has an academic perspective that just might require her to be more objective in looking at the law.
“I’ve always been a person of order. I’ve always been a person of impact. And I’ve always been a person of service,” she shared. “Working as a public defender serves an essential purpose, but character and personality determine which side you’re on.”
And even though most of her legal experience has been spent on the defense side of criminal law, her heart is in prosecuting people where and when the evidence supports the decision.
“A lot of people [prosecutors?] are always in a reactive posture, breaking the puzzle down into tiny bits and pieces, instead of putting it together and making sure they have a prima facie case and that [they] have everything [they] need to convict a defendant and protect society.”
If she were the State Attorney that would change, she says, pointing to her background as a trainer/supervisor in both the Public Defender and State Attorney offices.
“We need a change,” she says pointedly. Why? “Because we need action.
“There’s a difference between running for an office and running to change and to fix. We don’t have anyone who has a passion for the people in this community,” she said in an obvious reference to the incumbent Jeff Ashton. “We cannot turn community safety into a TV reality show.”
Ayala says she will act to create alliances and collaborations in the various communities.
“All the research has proven that the [best way] to reduce crime is to be involved in community organizations like churches, big brother-big sister, the public school system, because then you are letting people know that you care about them, that you care about their safety, and about their relationship with law enforcement.”
Perhaps too many of us only see the prosecutor as an extension of the police department. It’s probably fair to say that some prosecutors rubber stamp the charges brought by police, and some prosecutors don’t. I came away from the interview pretty much convinced that Ayala would not. She’s too principled for that.
Most of us rarely if ever talk to a representative of the prosecutor’s office when no one that we know is in trouble. The lack of communication that results allows misinformation–and distrust–to prevail. Ayala wants to change that.
“Either myself or someone else from my office, will be present at community meetings to build relationships with residents and improve relations between law enforcement, prosecutors, and the community.”
I wanted to know what she thought about procurement, and the money that the State Attorney’s office spends in the local community on goods and services.
Under her administration, she said, the State Attorney’s office will purchase needed goods and services from all qualified sources, without regard to race or ethnicity.
Ayala also intends to bring back the Domestic Violence Unit, “so every person has an equal chance of achieving justice.” Most of us are still trying to figure out where it went and why.
She has other campaign platform elements, and all are worthy of being mentioned, but you can read them on her website: www.aramisayala.com.
My takeaway from the meeting with Ayala? She’d make a great state attorney. She’d set a pretty high standard for the prosecutors serving under her. And she’d increase the ethnic and gender diversity at the upper reaches of the prosecutor’s office. Laudable goals, where action speaks louder than words.
And unfortunately, we’ve heard the words before. Action, anyone?