On Wednesday, August 9, 2023, CNN reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended Monique Worrell, the state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit. This marks the second time DeSantis has removed a democratically elected prosecutor whose political views did not align with his conservative agenda.
DeSantis justified his decision by accusing Worrell of “neglect of duty and incompetence,” citing lenient sentences and a lack of prosecution for certain charges. He emphasized that prosecutors have a duty to faithfully enforce the law and that political agendas should not override this responsibility. DeSantis asserted that failing to enforce Florida’s laws endangers communities and victimizes innocent citizens.
This recent suspension mirrors the controversy surrounding DeSantis’ previous removal of another Democratic state attorney, Andrew Warren, in Tampa. Critics accused DeSantis of abusing his power for political gain during that incident. A federal judge who reviewed Warren’s suspension even questioned the political motivations behind DeSantis’ actions, noting the calculation of the media attention generated by the move.
DeSantis’ decision to suspend Worrell has already attracted national attention. As the governor addressed the press in Tallahassee’s capitol building, conservative outlets, such as Fox News, had already published stories on the matter. DeSantis was joined at the news conference by two local sheriffs who praised him as a champion of law and order, despite neither serving a county overlapping with Worrell’s jurisdiction.
Reacting to her suspension, Monique Worrell referred to it as a “political hit job” orchestrated to benefit DeSantis’ presidential campaign. She defiantly stated, “I am a duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that.” While considering legal action, Worrell acknowledged the challenging odds she faces.
In a subsequent interview, Worrell expressed her intention to run for office again in 2024, vowing to regain the position through the will of the voters. She criticized the governor and local law enforcement for spreading false narratives about her role in the criminal justice system. Worrell emphasized that the system operates collaboratively, involving the judiciary, law enforcement, and the defense bar, and decisions made by her office have been ratified by the judiciary.
The power to remove elected officials is granted to the governor by the Florida constitution for reasons such as malfeasance, neglect of duty, and incompetence. However, DeSantis has interpreted this power more broadly than his predecessors. While the state Senate can reinstate Worrell, it is unlikely given the Republican majority’s alignment with DeSantis.
This suspension comes at a critical time for DeSantis, whose presidential campaign has struggled to gain traction. As a candidate, DeSantis has consistently promised to rein in government overreach, a promise that critics argue is at odds with his actions in cases like this. The governor has been a vocal critic of what he perceives as the “weaponization” of the US Department of Justice under President Joe Biden and has accused prosecutors, both state and federal, of pursuing a political agenda.
Monique Worrell’s biography reveals a career that includes working as a public defender in the Orlando area and serving as a clinical law professor at the University of Florida College of Law. In 2020, she won a contested Democratic primary and was elected as the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, securing 66% of the vote in a heavily Democratic region. Her bio highlights her commitment to reforming the criminal legal system and striving for justice and equity.
DeSantis’ decision to suspend Monique Worrell has ignited a fresh debate about the boundaries of executive power and the potential influence of political considerations on the removal of democratically elected officials. As the story develops, it remains to be seen how this controversy will impact the Florida political landscape and DeSantis’ presidential ambitions.