TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday once again suspended an elected Florida prosecutor from office, this time removing a central Florida Democrat that the Republican governor contended was too lenient with criminals and was endangering the public.
The move drew sharp criticism from the target of the suspension — State Attorney Monique Worrell — as well as Democrats, who called DeSantis a “dictator” and said his actions were designed to draw attention to his struggling presidential campaign.
The governor’s office had been telegraphing dissatisfaction with Worrell for months, including raising questions about how her office had handled past arrests of a 19-year-old man who was ultimately arrested for allegedly killing three people in Orlando, including a television reporter.
DeSantis, during an early morning press conference from the state Capitol where he announced the suspension, cited several examples of where he contended Worrell had failed to pursue minimum mandatory sentences for criminals or did not fully prosecute both adults and juveniles who later went on to commit other crimes. One of those the governor highlighted was a 17-year-old who allegedly shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend just months after he had been initially charged with gun crimes.
“We had a duty to act to prevent this dereliction of duty,” DeSantis said. “Prosecutors do have a certain amount of discretion about which charges to bring. What this state attorney has done is abuse that discretion and has effectively nullified certain laws in the state of Florida.”
Fox News posted a story on the suspension just moments before DeSantis started the news conference.
Worrell, who talked the media just outside the Orange County courthouse on Wednesday, called DeSantis a tyrant and said she remained a “duly elected” prosecutor who the governor removed for political reasons.
“This is simply a smokescreen for Ron DeSantis’ failing and disastrous presidential campaign,” Worrell said. “He needed to get back in the media in some positive way that would be red meat for his base.”
The action came just one day after DeSantis reshuffled his presidential campaign, as he tries to close the gap between himself and former President Donald Trump. DeSantis sidelined his campaign manager and brought in his chief of staff, James Uthmeier, to take over the operation.
“He replaced his campaign manager yesterday and I guess today is my turn,” said Worrell, who said she was exploring potential legal options. She also vowed to continue her plans to run for reelection in 2024.
This is the second time that DeSantis has removed an elected prosecutor from office during his time as governor. He suspended Hillsborough prosecutor Andrew Warren a year ago over several decisions the Democratic elected official made, including signing a pledge that he would not enforce a newly adopted ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Warren challenged his suspension in both state and federal court but has been rebuffed so far in his effort to get reinstated.
Warren’s suspension, however, was sharply criticized by a federal judge who said that the governor’s office had not thoroughly investigated Warren’s actions before deciding to suspend him.
But in Worrell’s case, the governor’s executive order includes more than 20 pages of documents and reports that it said highlighted problems with her office. The governor’s press operation also handed out summaries from 10 different criminal cases that they said showed that Worrell had allowed murderers and other offenders to obtain reduced sentences.
Worrell, during her remarks, called the allegations a “false narrative” and said that recent statistics showed that crime had dropped in Orange County and the city of Orlando. She asserted that she has run afoul of some in law enforcement because she had prosecuted rogue cops.
DeSantis acted just two days after Worrell pushed back against criticisms from a local police union over the criminal history of a man who shot two Orlando police officers over the weekend before he was killed by a SWAT team. The man, Daton Viel, was out on bond after authorities charged him with sexual assault. Worrell said she had no control over what bond amount was set by the judge in the case.
Under Florida law, the governor has the authority to suspend elected officials, though the power is usually reserved for those who are accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Democrats reacted furiously to the suspension, saying it was a “politically moved action” targeting a part of the state run by Democrats.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando). “State Attorney Monique Worrell is a duly elected official and the only Black woman serving as State Attorney in Florida right now. Her removal is a complete slap in the face to Orange and Osceola county residents and another example of Gov. DeSantis eroding our local control and democracy.”
Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) said in a statement, “we saw this coming from a mile away – with his presidential campaign up in flames, wanna-be dictator Governor Ron DeSantis is taking a page out of his tired playbook by unconstitutionally suspending a duly elected State Attorney to breathe life back into his tired conservative persona.”
Top Republicans, including Attorney General Ashley Moody and House Speaker Paul Renner, supported DeSantis’ actions. Moody pushed back against assertions that the suspension was politically motivated by pointing out that Worrell had dismissed cases or declined to prosecute individuals at a much higher rate than Democratic prosecutors in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
Renner, in a social media post, commended DeSantis for “doing what Mrs. Worrell and her rogue colleagues refuse to do – put the safety and well-being of our residents and millions of visitors to Central Florida first.”
But suspended prosecutor Andrew Warren, who called the Worrell suspension a “tantrum” by DeSantis due to his floundering campaign, said someone could always question prosecutorial discretion or the discretion of law enforcement to prioritize murder investigations over drug charges.
“That’s what elections are for,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.
Seven of the eight Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation also sharply criticized DeSantis and demanded Worrell’s immediate reinstatement.
“The governor does not have the right to dismiss an elected official from office just because she’s not serving his radical, political agenda,” the delegation said in a statement. “That’s not grounds for suspension. We demand the Governor reinstate her immediately.”
DeSantis appointed Andrew Bain, a circuit court judge from Orange County, to fill Worrell’s post. Bain, a Black man, was first appointed to the bench by DeSantis back in 2020 and then won a full term during the 2022 elections.
Bain sent out an email to employees in the state attorney’s office where he vowed to roll back several policies that had been put in place by Worrell.
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