By Bernie Woodall
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida state prosecutor removed from 23 murder cases by Governor Rick Scott for refusing to consider the death penalty on Tuesday filed federal and state lawsuits seeking to reverse his order as unconstitutional.
Aramis Ayala, who took office in January as state attorney for the Ninth Judicial District in central Florida, covering Orange and Osceola Counties, last month said she would not seek the death penalty in murder cases. One of those cases is for the killing of an Orlando police officer.
In the state suit as well as one filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ayala claimed that Scott acted against the state constitution in not allowing her the discretion to decide how she wants to run the prosecutor's office.
Ayala last month cited "legal chaos" in the death penalty system of Florida, which has the second-largest death-row population among U.S. states, for her decision.
The move, which her lawyer claimed was unprecedented in the United States, came at a time of deep division on the U.S. Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Ayala's case against Scott in Florida's top court will proceed first. The state suit makes clear that if Ayala loses in the Florida Supreme Court, she can press the federal case.
The suits are not identical but both include many of the same elements, and each seeks to return Ayala as prosecutor of the 23 murder cases, claiming that Scott does not have the authority to remove her.
Scott, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said Ayala's decision not to seek the death penalty in the case of the Orlando police killing "bothered me personally."
He also said he believed Florida state attorneys should "prosecute individuals to the fullest extent of the law," including the death penalty.
But Ayala's Florida suit said, "Nothing in Florida law requires Ayala to seek the death penalty" in cases in her jurisdiction.
The federal suit also names as a defendant Brad King, state attorney for Florida's Fifth Judicial Circuit, who was assigned by Scott to prosecute the 23 murder cases, and has filed a notice to seek the death penalty for the man accused of killing the Orlando police officer.
The federal suit asks that King not take over the cases as he was not elected by voters of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, thus depriving them of their right to have a prosecutor they elected work all cases in the district.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Leslie Adler and Andrew Hay)