TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A group of 121 elected prosecutors, former judges and law enforcement officials filed a brief in the Florida Supreme Court on Monday in support of State Attorney Monique Worrell, who was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month.
The duly-elected prosecutor of Orange and Osceola counties was ousted from her seat in August. In a news conference, DeSantis said he suspended her for “neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.”
DeSantis’ office began investigating Worrell earlier this year after Keith Moses, 19, was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of news reporter Dylan Lyons, Nathacha Augustin and 9-year-old T’yonna Major. The girl’s mother and news photographer Jesse Walden were also shot. The governor’s office claimed Worrell neglected to hold Moses accountable for previous criminal offenses.
Worrell filed a petition in the Florida Supreme Court challenging her suspension earlier this month, claiming DeSantis did not demonstrate the neglect or incompetency she was accused of.
“The order does not allege a single instance in which Ms. Worrell’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion violated Florida law,” the petition stated. “To the extent the Governor disagrees with how Ms. Worrell is lawfully exercising her prosecutorial discretion, such a disagreement does not constitute a basis for suspension from elected office.”
A group of 121 criminal justice leaders filed an amicus brief in support of Worrell on Monday, arguing that DeSantis violated the state constitution and failed to identify the conduct that meets the legal grounds for suspension. They alleged the order was “based solely on vaguely defined policy disagreements” and the issue should be left up to the voters in 2024.
The group argues that if the Supreme Court allows Worrell’s suspension to stand and refuses to limit the governor’s power to remove elected officials, “the floodgates will open to allow removal far beyond what the (Florida) constitution ever contemplated. Any guardrails for the future will be off…. future elected leaders in Florida will serve at the whim of the governor – not the will of the people.”
This was not the first time DeSantis removed a state attorney. Last year, he suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren, who was elected twice by Hillsborough County voters, after he pledged not to pursue criminal charges against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments.
DeSantis also accused him of negligence due to Warren’s policy of not bringing charges against suspects for certain low-level crimes. A federal judge ruled that DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution by suspending Warren, but said the court lacked the power to reinstate him.
Warren called the day Worrell was suspended “a dark day for democracy in the Sunshine State.” Immediately following her suspension, Worrell vowed to seek reelection next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.