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Florida governor: Actions are legal in fight with prosecutor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A prosecutor is wrong in arguing that Florida’s governor violated the state constitution when he took away almost two dozen cases from her office after she announced she’d no longer seek the death penalty, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s Attorney General argued in court documents filed Thursday.

Florida’s governors have had the authority to transfer cases for 112 years, even after Florida’s prosecutors went from being appointed to being elected by voters, according to a motion filed with the Florida Supreme Court by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala, whose district covers Orlando, is challenging the governor’s orders transferring almost two dozen death-penalty cases from her office to another prosecutor. Ayala’s challenge is being heard before the Florida Supreme Court.

The controversy started last month when Ayala said her office would no longer seek the death penalty since the process was costly and dragged on for the victims’ relatives.

Scott responded by reassigning the cases to State Attorney Brad King in a neighboring district.

Ayala said the governor had no authority to do so and that his actions challenged the prosecutorial decision-making of Florida’s state attorneys, as well as violated Florida’s Constitution.

But the governor said in his response that Ayala previously had requested six non-death-penalty cases to be reassigned to King, primarily because of conflicts of interest in her office. Those requests are difficult to reconcile with Ayala’s current position, Scott said.

“Ayala’s letters and email requesting that the six cases be reassigned did not express any doubts concerning the governor’s statutory or constitutional authority to order the requested reassignments,” said the response by the governor and attorney general.

If they followed Ayala’s argument on the death penalty, prosecutors around the state could say they don’t agree with other laws, such as hate crimes enhancements or campaign finance regulations, and decide not to enforce the laws, the governor and attorney general said.

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