TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that he has suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell.

Worrell served as the state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for the State of Florida, which represents Orange and Osceola counties. She was elected in Nov. 2020.

DeSantis said he suspended Worrell for “neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.”

“Worrell’s practices and policies have too often allowed violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct, thereby endangering the innocent civilians of Orange and Osceola counties,” a news release said.

“It is my duty as Governor to ensure that the laws enacted by our duly elected Legislature are followed,” DeSantis said. “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.” 

The suspension comes days after two Orlando police officers were shot during a traffic stop. Police said Daton Viel fired at the officers and critically injured them. DeSantis said Viel was out on bond at the time of the shooting.

“I have no doubt that today’s decision is not only consistent with the Constitution and laws of Florida and that we have a right to act,” DeSantis said. I know that with today’s decision we had a duty to act to protect the public from this dereliction of duty.”

The governor appointed Judge Andrew Bain to the position. He most recently served as a judge in Orange County.

Worrell responds to her suspension

In a news conference Wednesday, Worrell said the suspension is politically motivated and claimed DeSantis has been searching for a reason to remove her from office for over a year. She pushed back against his claims that violent crime is surging in her district, saying that crime rates are actually down since she took office.

Worrell alleged DeSantis is pushing a “false narrative” that portrays her is an ineffective prosecutor who puts residents in danger, but crime data reportedly indicates, “the people are more protected than ever under [her] leadership for the last three years.”

Worrell said she learned of her suspension from a phone call shortly before DeSantis’ press conference Wednesday morning. Courthouse staff were reportedly met with letters upon their arrival stating no court proceedings would be held on Wednesday because the new state attorney has yet to be sworn in.

The person appointed to “number two” ran against her in a previous election, but lost, according to Worrell. She called the ordeal “political shenanigans.”

“You see how that works? You can lose an election and then you can just come back and be appointed in the position by the governor,” Worrell said.

Worrell vowed to seek reelection in 2024 and to fight her suspension in the meantime. She said her legal team is gearing up for a fight in courts she alleged are stacked with pro-DeSantis judges.

“I am your duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit,” Worrell said. “And nothing done by a weak dictator can change that.”

Central Florida officials respond to Worrell’s suspension

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, whose district includes Orange County, called the decision a “blatant abuse of power and fascism” slammed DeSantis’ struggling presidential campaign. Frost said Florida residents “have become pawns in DeSantis’s long-term plans for total and absolute power” and accused the governor of ignoring issues at home.

“Where has this Governor been as our insurance market collapses? Or as thousands of people get priced out of their homes during one of the worst affordability crises our state has ever seen while Florida battles record inflation?” Frost said. “He’s not in Florida because he does not care.”

“There is only one person in our state whose’ administration has been ‘clearly and fundamentally derelict, so as to constitute neglect of duty and incompetence’,” Frost said, quoting DeSantis. “And it’s the person sitting in the Governor’s Mansion.”

Florida Rep. Rita Harris, who represents Orlando, also decried Worrell’s suspension, calling it “a gross abuse of power.”

“In removing a duly elected official, who is also the only Black woman State Attorney in Florida, Gov. DeSantis has made his priorities clear,” Harris said. “He does not care about the will of Floridians, but is actively using us as pawns to energize a national base in his run for higher office.”

Harris called the decision “outrageous and against the very fabric of our democracy” and said DeSantis “has taken [the state attorney’s] office hostage.”

On behalf of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, chair Rep. Dianne Hart, who represents Tampa, said, “I am a firm believer that the voters knew who they wanted, that’s why [Worrell] was duly elected. Florida has real pressing issues.”

Florida Rep. Michele Rayner, who represents St. Petersburg, said DeSantis’ actions are “yet another appalling abuse of power that strikes at the heart of our democratic system and undermines the trust of the voters.”

State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks at an online news conference on Aug. 9, 2023

Worrell is the second state attorney that DeSantis has suspended. Last August, Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren from office.

In a news conference Wednesday, Warren urged Worrell to fight back against the suspension.

“Let me be clear, this is a dark day for democracy in the Sunshine State,” Warren said. “This is another illegal and unconstitutional attack on democracy by a small, scared man who is desperate to save his presidential campaign.”

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