Florida Supreme Court Upholds DeSantis’s Suspension of Orlando Prosecutor

Mr. DeSantis suspended state attorney Monique Worrell in 2023 for ‘neglecting her duty,’ and she challenged his authority to do so.
Florida Supreme Court Upholds DeSantis’s Suspension of Orlando Prosecutor
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Tallahassee, Fla. on Aug. 9, 2023. (Ron DeSantis/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Caden Pearson
6/7/2024
Updated:
6/7/2024
0:00

The Supreme Court of Florida has upheld Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of former state attorney Monique Worrell in a ruling issued on Thursday.

In August 2023, the governor issued an executive order suspending Ms. Worrell, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit, which serves metro Orlando, for “neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.”

Ms. Worrell, a Democrat, called the suspension a “political hit job.“ The Florida Democratic Party, which described Ms. Worrell as a ”devoted public servant,“ said the governor had ”gone too far.”

Her removal raised questions over the governor’s suspension powers and the role of prosecutorial discretion in the criminal justice system.

In their per curiam decision, the justices noted their limited role in reviewing the governor’s suspension power. They state that their task was twofold: determining whether applicable grounds were specified for the suspension and whether the allegations reasonably relate to the basis for the suspension.

“The Executive Order passes this test,” the court wrote. “It names the grounds for [Worrell’s] suspension—neglect of duty and incompetence—and provides various factual allegations that reasonably relate to those grounds of suspension.”

Court’s Review of Suspension Power

The state high court’s decision came in response to a petition filed by Ms. Worrell challenging the governor’s Aug. 9, 2023, executive order, which cited her prosecutorial record as grounds for the suspension.

Mr. DeSantis accused Ms. Worrell of allowing “violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct,” including drug traffickers, serious juvenile offenders, and pedophiles.

The order replaced her with former judge Andrew Bain.

Ms. Worrell issued a statement following the court’s decision on Thursday, stating that Mr. DeSantis’ support for former President Donald Trump despite his conviction by a New York jury stood in “stark contrast” to the governor’s lack of support for her.

“DeSantis suspended me based on unproven allegations, a move that disregards the principles of justice and fairness,” she wrote on social media platform X. “He also openly criticized the judicial system while cherry-picking Trump’s misdemeanor charges arguing they shouldn’t have proceeded in court. He conveniently ignored the grave felony convictions,” she continued.

“This selective outrage and inconsistent application of the law reveal a blatant double standard that we cannot ignore. We must stand up against this hypocrisy and fight for a fair and just Florida.”

Ms. Worrell found support from fellow Democrats following the ruling. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) called the ruling a “complete perversion of justice and subversion of Democracy.”

The Epoch Times has contacted Ms. Worrell for further comment.

15 Pages of Allegations

According to the court’s opinion, the executive order contained 15 pages of specific allegations against Ms. Worrell.

Mr. DeSantis highlighted Ms. Worrell’s decision not to pursue a misdemeanor drug charge against 19-year-old Keith Moses one year before he fatally shot three people—a woman, a 9-year-old girl, and a journalist—in Pine Hills, Florida.

Another allegation involved a suspect who shot two Orlando police officers after having been arrested for sexual battery on a minor and lewd and lascivious molestation, all while already on probation for another offense.

“And yet he was still let out on bond, and then tragically shot two Orlando police officers,” Mr. DeSantis said, adding that he had a “duty to act to protect the public from this dereliction of duty.”

According to the court document, only five out of 130 cases involving firearm possession by convicted felons resulted in mandatory minimum sentences between 2021 and 2022.

The executive order also alleged that Ms. Worrell prevented assistant state attorneys in her office from seeking certain sentencing enhancements and limited charges in child pornography cases, contrary to Florida law, “even when additional counts could have been charged and proven at trial.”

Mr. DeSantis argued that such practices led to a significant loss of experienced prosecutors and posed a threat to public safety and welfare.

Dissenting Opinion

The court’s opinion includes both concurring and dissenting views without specifying which judge wrote the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz, along with Justices Charles T. Canady, Jamie R. Grosshans, John D. Couriel, and Meredith L. Sasso, concurred with the opinion. Justice Renatha Francis concurred with the result but wrote separately, advocating for stricter adherence to the constitutional text and suggesting that the political question doctrine might limit judicial intervention in such cases.

Justice Jorge Labarga dissented, arguing that the allegations lacked sufficient specificity to allow Ms. Worrell to mount a meaningful defense.

“Given this immense authority to override the will of the voters, article IV, section 7(a) requires the governor to ’stat[e] the grounds’ for such action in the executive order,” Justice Labarga wrote. He emphasized the need for specific, detailed facts in the executive order to ensure fair notice and the opportunity for a meaningful defense.

Ms. Worrell was overwhelmingly elected in 2020, securing more than 66.6 percent of the vote in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, according to Ballotpedia.