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Florida Supreme Court refuses to reinstate Monique Worrell as state attorney

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Florida Supreme Court refuses to reinstate Monique Worrell as state attorney

Jun 06, 2024 | 3:22 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
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Florida Supreme Court refuses to reinstate Monique Worrell as state attorney
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Monique Worrell via her webpage

The Florida Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Orlando-area State Attorney Monique Worrell, concluding that his decision was reasonable based on allegations he spelled out when relieving her of her duties.

The decision was 6-1, with Justice Jorge Labarga the lone dissenter.

Worrell, a Democrat, was elected in 2020 to serve as top prosecutor in Florida’s Nonth Judicial Circuit, encompassing Orange and Osceola counties, by campaigning on a platform of criminal justice reform. DeSantis suspended her on Aug. 9, 2023, claiming in an executive order that she had neglected her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.

The court’s majority said in its unsigned opinion that “[a] facial review of the Executive Order shows that it ‘contains allegations that bear some reasonable relation to the charge made’ against Worrell.”

“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,” the majority opinion reads. They also wrote that while “broad in its lawful scope, prosecutorial discretion is no complete defense to an allegation of incompetence or dereliction of duty.”

Worrell has disputed the allegations, asking in a recent radio interview, “where are the cases?”

“The thing about the Florida criminal system is that when you make an allegation regarding how cases are resolved, it’s very simple to cite to a specific case. That’s the way the law works. Cite to a specific case where there is a systemic pattern of individuals who commit any type of offense who are permitted to evade incarceration. He can’t, because there aren’t any,” she said on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa last month.

DeSantis’ executive order did not list specific cases but went beyond the order he issued in August 2022 when he suspended another Democratic state attorney, Hillsborough County’s Andrew Warren.

“Worrell has authorized or allowed practices or policies that have systemically permitted violent offenders, drug traffickers, serious-juvenile offenders, and pedophiles to evade incarceration when otherwise warranted under Florida law,” the Worrell executive order said.

“These practices or policies include non-filing or dropping meritorious charges or declining to allege otherwise provable facts to avoid triggering applicable lengthy sentences, minimum mandatory sentences, or other sentencing enhancements, especially for offenders under the age of 25, except in the most extreme cases.”

DeSantis’ court

DeSantis appointed five of the seven justices on the Florida Supreme Court. In a press release issued after the decision, Worrell said that the opinion was “disappointing but not a surprise.”

“The governor appointed most of the justices on Florida’s Supreme Court. They took the easy way out by refusing to examine whether the governor’s claims had any factual basis. They do not, and the Court today, with the exception of the dissenting justice, rubber-stamped a political stunt.”

In his dissent, Justice Labarga wrote, “I would grant Worrell’s petition for quo warranto relief because the allegations in the executive order are insufficient to provide her with sufficient notice to allow her to mount a meaningful dissent.”

A quo warranto motion, meaning “by what warrant,” asks a court to review an official action — in this case, Worrell’s suspension.

Justice Renatha Francis voted with the majority, but she wrote a separate opinion complaining that the justices have improperly involved themselves in reviewing gubernatorial suspensions of public officials.

“Continued adherence to the current manner of deciding these suspension cases, I believe, does a disservice to our state constitution’s clear commitment of the power to review suspensions to the Senate,” she wrote.

Per Florida’s Constitution, the Florida Senate has the exclusive responsibility to hold a trial to decide Worrell’s fate. That body is made up of 28 Republicans vs. just 12 Democrats. Worrell did not say in that interview whether she would pursue a trial if the Supreme Court ruled against her, or in her or press release Thursday.

Like Andrew Warren in Hillsborough County, Worrell has already filed for reelection and says she intends to win back her seat this November. She had raised more $182,000 as of March 31, the most of any of the four candidates who have filed to run for the seat.