Florida Supreme Court upholds Gov. DeSantis' order suspending progressive prosecutor for 'neglecting her duty' and 'incompetence'

 June 8, 2024

Last year, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended progressive Democratic State Attorney Monique Worrell over her failure to do her job as a prosecutor, and Worrell challenged her suspension in state court.

On Thursday, in a 6-1 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the governor's right to suspend the prosecutor and rejected the suspended prosecutor's assertion that the governor's motive was political and his stated reasons too vague, National Review reported.

After Worrell was suspended by DeSantis last year, she was subsequently removed from that position by the Florida Senate, but is now running against the governor's hand-picked replacement for her to be re-elected in November.

DeSantis' suspension of Worrell

In August 2023, Gov. DeSantis issued a news release announcing his decision to suspend 9th Circuit State Attorney Worrell for "neglecting her duty" to fully enforce and prosecute that state's laws against violent criminals.

"It is my duty as Governor to ensure that the laws enacted by our duly elected Legislature are followed," the governor said at the time. "The people of Central Florida deserve to have a State Attorney who will seek justice in accordance with the law instead of allowing violent criminals to roam the streets and find new victims."

DeSantis further issued a 40-page executive order outlining his authority to suspend Worrell under the state constitution, his reasons for doing so, evidence in support of those reasons, and his decision to replace her as prosecutor for the duration of the suspension with former state Judge Andrew Bains.

Florida Constitution grants governors the right to suspend state officers

As noted in the news release and executive order, Article IV, Section 7(a) of the Florida Constitution provides that, "By executive order stating the grounds and filed with the custodian of state records, the governor may suspend from office any state officer not subject to impeachment ... for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony, and may fill the office by appointment for the period of suspension. The suspended officer may at any time before removal be reinstated by the governor."

Article IV, Section 7(b) adds, "The senate may, in proceedings prescribed by law, remove from office or reinstate the suspended official and for such purpose the senate may be convened in special session by its president or by a majority of its membership."

National Review noted that former State Attorney Worrell had a long and well-documented history of "reducing or dropping charges against violent offenders, drug traffickers, serious juvenile offenders, and pedophiles," and suggested that DeSantis was correct to suspend her for "neglect of duty" and "incompetence" as well as for the Republican-controlled state Senate to vote for her removal from office.

Suspension upheld by the court

Worrell had challenged her suspension by the governor as being politically motivated and lacking in sufficient evidence to support that move, but on Thursday the Florida Supreme Court disagreed in a 26-page ruling that included the majority opinion, a concurring opinion, and a lone dissent.

The majority opinion noted that the governor's executive order included "fifteen pages" of allegations that Worrell "permitted violent offenders, drug traffickers, serious juvenile offenders, and pedophiles to evade incarceration when otherwise warranted under Florida law," and highlighted some of the more egregious examples of her failures to fully enforce the state's laws.

It also determined that the governor had the constitutional right to suspend the prosecutor and that the executive order "contains allegations that bear some reasonable relation to the charge made" against Worrell.

As to the complaints lodged by the ousted prosecutor, the majority concluded, "We cannot agree with Worrell that the allegations in the Executive Order are impermissibly vague, nor that they address conduct that falls within the lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion," and added, "Worrell’s objection as to vagueness is really about the sufficiency of the evidence marshaled in the Executive Order."

The separate concurring opinion simply suggested that the court reconsider and revise the manner in which it conducts reviews of such suspensions, while the dissenting opinion largely attacked the constitutional right of suspension endowed on the governor as being too much authority in one set of hands and defended the right of prosecutors to exercise "discretion" in how they perform their duties.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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